Saturday, June 08, 2013

Philippines still studying possible pullout from Golan

The government said Friday it was still studying whether to pull its UN peacekeeping force out of the Golan Heights, after the wounding of a Filipino soldier and the withdrawal of Austrian troops there.

The Department of Foreign Affairs recommended last month to President Benigno Aquino III that the country withdraw because of security concerns, but Malacanang deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said no decision had yet been made.

"The recommendation (regarding) the deployment of forces is being studied as of the present time," she said in a statement to AFP when asked on Friday about a decision.

Foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the department's position remained that the 341 Filipino troops should be pulled out.

The department made its recommendation last month after Syrian rebels briefly held hostage four Filipino soldiers. The same group abducted 21 Filipino peacekeepers in March. All were released unharmed.

Security concerns in the area rose further this week as Syrian government and rebel fighters battled for a Golan Heights border crossing.

A Filipino peacekeeper was wounded in the leg by shrapnel on Thursday and Austria, whose 377 troops make up the largest group in the UN contingent, announced it was withdrawing its men, throwing the force into disarray.

Armed Forces chief General Emmanuel Bautista said Friday the decision to pull out was up to the government, but his soldiers were prepared for the dangers.

"We can manage any risk, we have gone to areas where we exposed our people to combat," he said, citing the Filipino troops who fought with the UN force in Korea in the 1950s.

"You can't remove the risk. That is why we are there: to prevent conflict," he told reporters.

India also has troops serving in the UN Disengagement Observer Force, which has monitored a ceasefire between Israel and Syria since 1974.-Interaksyon

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