Talks to free Fijian peacekeepers 'progressive'
MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Negotiations for the release of a group of UN peacekeepers from Fiji taken hostage by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights 2 weeks ago are "progressive," the Fijian government said Wednesday, September 10.
Efforts to release the 45 Fijian peacekeepers, captured by Syrian Al-Nusra Front rebels on August 27, are "continuing," according to Ambassador-at-Large Maj. Gen. Ioane Naivalurua, in a statement released by the Fijian government.
"The Fijian envoy who is in New York to work on the release of the Fijian peacekeepers in the Golan region said that talks with all authorities have been progressive," the statement said.
The Fijian government's team in New York has been "actively working" on the safe release of the troops, according to Fiji Army Commander Brig. Gen. Mosese Tikoitoga.
"We are confident that Ambassador Naivalurua and other diplomatic missions that are relevant to this process will secure the safe release of the 45 peacekeeping troops," Tikoitoga was quoted as saying.
Prior to this, the country's information ministry posted a message on its Facebook page, stating that the "Fijian troops will soon be released."
"Someone has misinterpreted," government spokesman Dan Gavidi told Agence France-Presse when asked if posts on official social media feeds on Wednesday morning trumpeting the impending release were correct.
When quizzed about Suva's claims of a breakthrough, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said he had "nothing new to report on the Fijians".
Another UN official, who asked not to be named, said: "We have nothing to report. It is a delicate situation and nobody was released."
The Fiji ministry's post was later replaced by the statement stating the progress in the talks.
The development comes a week after the UN Security Council demanded the release of the peacekeepers, in a unanimously approved declaration condemning "in the strongest terms" the detention of the Fijians.
The Fijians are part of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) established in 1974 to maintain the ceasefire between Syria and Israel forces in the Golan, and oversee the implementation of a disengagement agreement.
The capture of the peacekeepers occurred as Syrian troops and Islamist rebels battled close to the armistice line with Israel in the Golan Heights.
A group of 75 Philippine peacekeepers were also besieged by the Al-Qaeda-linked fighters, but they eventually were able to avoid capture.
Officials in Fiji said that the Al-Nusra rebels have made several demands, including the delivery of humanitarian aid to a small town outside Damascus which is an Al-Nusra Front stronghold.
The also are demanding to be removed from a UN terror blacklist, officials in the Pacific nation said. – With reports from Agence France-Presse/KD Suarez, Rappler.com