June 6, 2013 (TSR-Xinhua) – Austrian UN troops should be brought back from the Golan Heights “as soon as possible,” Austrian Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said at a press conference in Vienna Thursday.
Spindelegger was joined by Chancellor Werner Faymann and Defence Minister Gerald Klug, who said the first troops would be brought back on June 11.
“The lives of our soldiers are paramount,” Klug said, in light of news earlier Thursday that the threat level in the region had increased to an “unnacceptable level.”
Beyond the initial withdrawal, an orderly pullout was planned in the next two to four weeks, Klug said, but if the situation were to intensify this could even happen “within hours.”
He added if the “Bravo-Gate” line were to fall to the rebels as it had done for a few hours Thursday morning, the withdrawal would be conducted along the “technical fence” separating the Israeli-occupied part of the Golan Heights with the buffer zone, together with Israeli security forces.
Klug said the long duration of the Golan mission for the Austrian contingent was a “turning point in the history of the armed forces,” but that now none of three basic requirements – reliable supply rotation, nonpartisanship, and safety of the soldiers – were assured.
The three top officials expressed their thanks to the troops for their efforts.
Faymann said Austria would continue to remain a reliable supplier of troops for the UN and referred to other activities they are currently involved in the Balkans, Cyprus, and Lebanon, and said these missions could be strengthened by the 380 returning Golan troops.
Recently, Syrian government troops and armed opposition have been fighting a fierce battle for the control of the border area.
The two sides on Thursday entered the post of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) near Quneitra, prompting the Austrian government to withdraw its peacekeepers, according to Austrian media.
The UNDOF was established in May 1974 and consists of about 1,200 servicemen and civilian personnel. The Philippines and India also have peacekeepers posted in Golan, but Austria’s soldiers make up the largest contingent of the approximately 400 UN peacekeepers.
The withdrawal of Austrian peacekeepers will create a huge gap in UN peacekeepers.