Austria Boosts Peacekeepers After Golan Withdrawal

VIENNA (Reuters) -

Austria will send more peacekeepers to the Balkans and Africa after its withdrawal from the Golan Heights last year raised questions about the neutral Alpine country’s international commitment.

Austria’s unilateral decision to pull its troops out of the U.N. peacekeeping force in the Golan, where it had been the biggest contingent, provoked anger in Israel and an expression of “regret” from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the time.

Defense Minister Gerald Klug said on Tuesday Austria would raise the total number of its peacekeepers to above 1,000 from 800 by sending an extra 230 soldiers to Kosovo and Bosnia and a handful of officers to the EU’s Central African Republic force.

Vienna withdrew its almost 400 peacekeeping troops from the Golan Heights last June during an Austrian national election campaign, saying spillover fighting from the Syrian civil war made their position too dangerous.

Minister (Sebastian) Kurz told Austrian ORF radio on Monday: “The withdrawal from Golan certainly didn’t win us any points internationally and so I consider it positive that we have decided to raise the number of peacekeepers in international missions.”

Defense Minister Klug said up to nine Austrian officers would join the EU’s Central African Republic peacekeeping force, initially at the force’s headquarters in Larissa, Greece, with an option that some could go on to the capital Bangui.

The 130 Austrian troops joining the KFOR force in Kosovo will replace a French contingent.