MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Friday that the Filipino peacekeepers in an ongoing standoff with Syrian rebels in Golan Heights would remain in their position and won’t surrender their weapons to the Syrian rebels, a spokesman said Friday. Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said that the Filipino peacekeepers were not negotiating with the Syrian armed elements and were in close coordination with the United Nations. The AFP public affairs chief also assured that the Filipino peacekeepers were safe.
“We are still firm in our position. Hindi natin binibigay ang ating armas. Present pa rin ang mga Syrian government armed elements pero ang ating gobyerno and ang United Nations is in close coordination para mabigyan ng payapang solusyon itong misyon na ito,” Zagala said in an interview over Radyo Inquirer 990 AM.
(We are still firm in our position. We will not surrender our weapons. The Syrian government armed elements are still present but our government and the United Nations are in close coordination with each other to ensure a peaceful resolution to this mission.)
“If we will surrender our firearms, the more we will put our troops in danger,” he said in a separate interview at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. In case of a clash with the Syrian armed forces, Zagala said that the Filipino peacekeepers would defend themselves.
“We have our right to defend ourselves if attacked. Kasama na rin ‘yan sa response kung ito’y mangyayari. Meron tayong rules of engagement. As peacekeepers, hindi dapat natin ito gagawin unless ma-threaten ang ating soldiers,” Zagala said. (We have our right to defend ourselves if attacked, that has been part of our response. We have rules of engagement. As peacekeepers, we will not do this [attack] unless our soldiers are threatened.) The AFP also set up a UN-Peacekeeping Operations Center to provide support and information to the relatives of the Filipino peacekeepers.
Zagala said the AFP was hoping the resolution of the standoff as soon as possible and a contingency plan has been planned to repatriate the Filipino soldiers. Zagala said there were 346 Filipino troops in war-torn Syria, 332 peacekeepers and 14 deployed as United Nations Disengagement Force.
He, however, did not divulge the actual Filipino troops involved in the standoff due to “operational security.”
The Syrian rebels earlier on Thursday captured 43 Fijian peacekeepers in Golan Heights, and proceeded to capture Filipino troops, who resisted, which resulted into a standoff.