UNDOF sends Filipino troops home
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The first batch of Filipino peacekeepers deployed to the Golan Heights returned home on Friday afternoon, September 19, a month ahead schedule.
Philippine military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said sending the troops home was a "practical" decision on the part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
The first group of 224 peacekeepers arrived Friday afternoon at the Philippine Air Force headquarters in Villamor Air Base in Pasay City. Philippine military chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr and Vice Chief of Staff Lieutenant General John Bonafos led the ceremony to welcome them back home.
Escalating violence in the Golan Heights forced the UNDOF to move all its peacekeepers from the Syrian side to the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, the ceasefire buffer zone that the troops had been monitoring before the Syrian internal conflict erupted and violence spilled over to the UN encampments.
"Because of this repositioning of all peacekeepers to the Israeli side of Golan Heights and its attendant logistical constraints on UNDOF, it was deemed practical that PH contingent be repatriated earlier than expected," Zagala said.
Philippine contingent commander Lieutenant Colonel Ted Damusmog, upon arrival at the Villamor Air Base, gave to the Armed Forces chief the Philippine flag that flew at the UN encampment Position 68 to signify the "completion of their tour in the United Nations Observation Force."
The order to send them home comes at the heels of the controversy involving the Filipino troops in Position 68 and UNDOF Commander Lieutenant General Iqbal Singha.
Last month, some of the troops figured in a standoff with Syrian rebels – including members of the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front – who demanded them to surrender their firearms. The troops exchanged gunfire with the rebels and later executed an unauthorized escape.
The Filipinos defied Singha's orders for them to surrender their firearms. Singha would later call their escape an "act of cowardice" that supposedly endangered the lives of 45 Fijian peackeepers held by the rebels. (The Fijians were released, unharmed, two weeks later.)
In a new report to the UN Security Council, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said the situation in the Golan Heights is “evolving rapidly and remains volatile” but recommended that UNDOF continue carrying out its “important mandate.”
Ban's report to the UN Security Council was silent on the order to surrender firearms. – Rappler.com