The United Nations and the United States have separately asked the Philippines not to withdraw its more than 300 peacekeepers from the Golan Heights, warning of “maximum volatility” in the region after several other countries decided to pull out their peacekeeping forces amid escalating violence, the Philippines’ top diplomat said Wednesday.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario of the Philippines said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Secretary of State John Kerry appealed to him in recent talks. He said he told them security for the forces should be bolstered for the Philippines to consider keeping them in the volatile buffer zone between Syria and Israel. The 342 Filipino troops now in the Golan Heights will stay until Aug. 3, when they need to be replaced by a fresh batch.
Last month del Rosario recommended to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III that the peacekeepers be withdrawn from the Golan Heights following two separate abductions of Filipino peacekeepers and the wounding of another in fighting between Syrian government and rebel forces.
Austria announced recently that it would remove its troops, leaving the Philippines as the largest single contributor.
Croatia withdrew in March for fear its troops would be targeted. Japanese forces have also withdrawn, according to del Rosario.
“I mentioned [in talks with Ban and Kerry] that we thought that the exposure was beyond tolerable limits for our people but we’re willing to reconsider and make a new assessment if the security and safety of our peacekeepers would be upgraded, ” said del Rosario.
Ban has proposed expanding the peacekeeping force to 1,250, and British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, president of the U.N. Security Council, said Tuesday there is strong support in the council for the idea, adding that Fiji will likely send troops by the end of July to replace the Austrian peacekeepers.