PHL seeks review of UN peacekeeping guidelines after Golan controversy

(Updated 2:04 p.m.) The Philippine government has asked the United Nations to review the principles and guidelines of its peacekeeping operations following the recent controversy involving Filipino troops stationed in Golan Heights.

In a letter sent to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario urged the UN to revisit its rules on peacekeeping to keep up with the "new threats" faced by peacekeepers.

"The Philippines strongly proposes a revisit of the outstanding operational and tactical issues [related to peacekeeping], including the UN's command and control vis-a-vis the safety and security of peacekeepers during kidnapping and siege incidents, the accountability of UN peacekeeping mission leaders for decisions made during crisis operations, as well as the contingency plans and procedures [in place] to address these situations," Del Rosario said in the letter.

The correspondence with Ban was read by Del Rosario during the budget briefing of the Department of Foreign Affairs at the House of Representatives on Monday.

The controversy erupted earlier this month after several Filipino peacekeepers defied an order from the commander of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Golan Heights at the height of a standoff with Syrian militants.

The commander, Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha, supposedly wanted the Filipino troops to lay down their firearms to ensure the safety of Fijian peacekeepers seized by the rebels.

The UNDOF official has slammed the Filipino troops' actions, calling their subsequent escape an "act of cowardice."

The Philippine military, on the other hand, supported its troops' actions.

Meeting with Ban

During Monday's budget briefing, Del Rosario said he and other foreign ministers from Southeast Asian countries are set to meet with Ban on September 25 to discuss concerns related to the peacekeeping mission in Golan Heights.

“I [will] request a pull-aside meeting with him to discuss the letter I’ve sent him after the conclusion of the episode [involving] the Filipino peacekeepers,” he told reporters at the sidelines of the budget hearing.

Among the “new threats” that Filipino peacekeeping troops have to contend with is the presence of at least seven Syrian rebel groups in the area of separation that the UNDOF monitors.

Israel captured Golan Heights from Syria in a 1967 war, and the countries technically remain at war. Syrian troops are not allowed in an area of separation under a 1973 ceasefire formalized in 1974.

“The [peacekeepers’] original mission was to be in that separation area to promote a ceasefire between Israel and Syria. But now we have seven militant groups which have changed the equation. These are not states so we need to know how to deal with them,” Del Rosario said.

Minimum defense position

In his letter, Del Rosario defended the Filipino peacekeepers’ decision to defy Singha’s orders, saying their surrender was not a guarantee that the standoff with the Syrian rebels will end.

“The Philippine government strongly believes that surrender will only further endanger the lives of Philippine peacekeepers in that position and embolden [the rebels]… By retaining their arms, the Philippine troops had maintained a minimum defense posture against confirmed hostile forces while bearing in mind the principles indicated the UNDOF’s rules of engagement,” he said.

Despite the ordeal faced by the Filipino peacekeepers in the strife-torn area, Del Rosario said the Philippine government remains committed to the UN’s peacekeeping mission.

In accordance with President Benigno Aquino III’s instruction, however, the Philippines will pull out the troops stationed in Golan Heights after their tour of duty ends in October.

“For now we’re committed to UNDOF. That will continue until the President decides otherwise… [But following] instructions from the President, we will not renew our rotation,” Del Rosario said. —KBK, GMA News


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