Mar. 10, 2013 (TSR) – After being abducted for three days by Syria militants in Golan, 21 UN peacekeepers of the Filipino nationality crossed to freedom in Jordan.
Head of the UN Envoy’s Office in Syria Mokhtar Lamani said that the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) observers who were kidnapped days ago were released, indicating that they arrived ”safe and sound” after long and arduous negotiations.
The soldiers who have been freed by the Syrian rebels were identified as Maj. Dominador Valerio, Maj. Michael Mangahas, Cpt. Xy-Rus Meneses, S/Sgt. Jerry Lasquite, Sgt. Freddie Ramos, S/Sgt. Armado Queza, Cpl. Marcelo Tagle, Cpl. Jovin Baccay, Cpl. Elson Tunac, S/Sgt. Lambert Banganan, Sgt. Alan Gabunales, Cpl. Vivencio Raton, Cpl. Ariel Evangelista, T/Sgt. Elmer Esteban, S/Sgt. Felicito Baccay, Sgt Dionisio Manuel, S/Sgt. Rhae Bolhayon, Cpl. John Paul Yabut, Cpl. Jheraldine P Sario, Sgt. Aristotel Selosa and Cpl. Antonio Cortez III.
They are members of the 6th Philippine Contingent to the Golan Heights, consisting of 48 officers and 285 enlisted personnel.
In a statement to journalists in Sheraton Hotel in Damascus on Saturday, Lamani said “I’d like to thank the Syrian Arab army who was very cooperative,” adding “the negotiations with the kidnappers were intended to secure the observers’ release through a road 500 meters away north of al-Jamlah village so that they could use their cars driving back.
“We were surprised by a very urgent demand from the kidnappers that the team waiting for them should go for them, and there were long negotiations about this specific issue before they asked to wait for an hour while they negotiate amongst themselves, until we were surprised by their arrival in Jordan.”
He stressed that the kidnapping operation is unacceptable that the UN Security Council issued a strong-worded statement denouncing the detention.
World powers remain at loggerheads over the way forward, with Western governments firm in their demand for President Bashar al-Assad to quit, and China and Russia equally firm in their opposition to any imposed regime change.
“You know that we are not in the regime-change game,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated on Friday. “We are against interference in domestic conflicts,” he told the BBC.
”The UNDOF observers have been on a mission since 1974 and were doing their daily run before they were stopped and abducted, which is unacceptable,” Lamani said.
Ki-moon Welcomes Releasing UNDOF Observers in Golan
In the same context, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday welcomed releasing the UNDOF observers who were detained by armed terrorist group on march 6th in Golan.
In a statement issued after transporting the 21 Filipino observers to Jordan, Ki-moon stressed the neutrality of the UNDOF observers, the AFP said.
He called upon respecting the freedom of the UNDOF observers’ movement and the security of its teams.
He expressed gratitude for “whoever participated in releasing the observers in a peaceful way.”
Israel Facilitated the Abduction
After an agreement to a ceasefire has been reached between 10:00 am (0800 GMT) and noon (1000 GMT) on Saturday, in order to allow the evacuation of the 21 peacekeepers with Red Cross delegation accompanied the UN team to the area and evacuated the peacekeepers.
Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari said Syrian forces were doing everything in order to bring back safely the peacekeepers. He accused the Zionist entity of cooperating with the armed group that abducted 21 UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights earlier this week.
“Israel facilitated entry of Salafist elements into the buffer zone between Israel and Syria in Golan, which is considered a violation of the 1974 treaty signed between the two sides”, Jaafari told reporters on Friday.
“Israel wanted to repeat what it had done in south Lebanon in 1970s when they created an isolating area and appointed a Lebanese officer to fight for them”.
“For achieving such aim, peacekeepers should be evacuated from Golan,” he added.
“Two weeks ago, seven terrorist from the same armed group that took the Filipino contingent staffers hostage where also rescued by the Israelis through the separation line, treated in Israeli hospitals and returned at an undisclosed place on the line of separation, according to the Israeli official statement.” he said.
“So that proves to itself that the Israelis are cooperating with these armed groups and terrorist groups.”
Israel became a State in 1947 due to the Philippines, and now Philippines Supports Palestine
In 1947, the Philippines was among the first countries that voted for the partitioning of Palestine to include the state of Israel.
It was the only Asian country that voted for UN Resolution 181 which partitioned Palestine and created the state of Israel on November 29, 1947.
The UN resolution needed two-thirds’ vote of the UN General Assembly, and when it came down to the voting, “we knew that we were going to win (the vote) when it came to letter P. After Panama, the Philippines’ vote was the winning vote,” Israel’s Ambassador to the Philippines Menashe Bar-on declared to the Philippine media.
“(Then) President (Manuel) Roxas gave the instruction for the Philippine vote,” he added.
During the landmark General Assembly meeting that was held on the 65th anniversary of a UN resolution on the division of the Palestinian territories into a two-state solution last November, the Philippines was among the 138 countries that voted in favor of the United Nations resolution recognizing Palestine as a non-member state.
The Philippines supports Palestine’s quest for self-rule and self-determination.
Pure Blackmail and Unmasked the Real Agenda of the US-backed Syrian Rebels
The UN force has been tasked since 1974 with ensuring a ceasefire between Israel and Syria, and the hostages are part of a 333-member Philippine Army force deployed there since November last year. They have until May to complete their six-month tour before sent home.
On Wednesday, the rebel Yarmuk Martyrs brigade claimed the capture of the Filipinos soldiers.
The rebels said they would hold them until troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad withdrew from the area of Jamla, which lies east of the ceasefire line.
The rebels, whom the Filipino troops described as “civilians,” supposedly brought them to a safe place. The peacekeepers said they were treated well by their captors.
The Philippines has been sending troops to Golan Heights, an area disputed by Israel and Syria, since November 2009 as part of its commitment to maintain world peace.
The contingent performs peacekeeping tasks such as manning and patrolling the area of separation, operating foot and mobile patrols, and coordinating with host nations.
The 6th Philippine Contingent to Golan Heights is led by Lt. Col. Nolie Anquillano. It left the country in three batches last November.
The Philippine government also sends peacekeeping teams and observers to Haiti, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Timor Leste, Iraq and Pakistan.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos yesterday said the 21 Filipino soldiers would complete their tour of duty as UN peacekeepers despite being held hostage by rebels for three days.
Burgos said the incident would not discourage the 21 from performing their duties as UN peacekeepers.
“This is a global commitment. However, there would be adjustments in the light of what happened,” Burgos said.
A senior administration lawmaker said the US and the European Union should reconsider providing assistance to the Syrian rebels following their taking hostage the Filipino peacekeepers.
“This is pure blackmail by the rebels against the UN,” Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento said.
He asked why the rebels, who have been getting humanitarian and military assistance from the US and the EU, would hold hostage members of the neutral UN peacekeeping force sent to protect the Syrian people from the onslaught of the Syrian army.
“They should have realized that the Filipino peacekeeping team were sent to Syria precisely to protect civilians who are caught in the crossfire,” Sarmiento said.
He said the incident has “unmasked the real agenda of the Syrian rebels in their quest to seize power in Syria.”