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MANILA: The 21 Filipino peacekeepers seized in the Golan Heights and later freed by Syrian rebels will return to duty as members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) today, officials said.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col Arnulfo Burgos last Sunday said the 21 Filipino soldiers would complete their tour of duty as UN peacekeepers despite being held hostage by rebels for three days.
Burgos said the incident would not discourage the 21 from performing their duties as UN peacekeepers.
“This is a global commitment. However, there would be adjustments in the light of what happened,” Burgos said.
The Filipino peacekeepers, members of a UN force monitoring a 1974 ceasefire between Syria and Israel, were freed last Saturday, three days after they were taken hostage by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights.
The Filipino troops were handed over by the rebels to Jordanian officials in Tabarbour who waited to receive them.
Burgos said the peacekeepers were then turned over to the Philippine embassy in Jordan early morning and were brought to a hotel in Amman.
Officials said the soldiers even had a “boodle fight” in the hotel to celebrate their release. A boodle fight is a communal way of eating using the hands.
“They (peacekeepers) are properly accounted for and they are in good shape,” Burgos said.
“The release of the 21 Filipino peacekeepers is a big sigh of relief for their families,” he added.
The Philippine government and the UN welcomed the release and expressed appreciation to the Jordanian government.
“The Philippine government and its people express deep appreciation to the Jordanian government and military officials on the successful safe passing over to the Jordanian side of all our 21 Filipino peacekeepers,” a statement said.
Burgos said the peacekeepers’ battalion commander and one of the freed officers had personally confirmed by telephone that they were in Jordanian custody.
“The 21 peacekeepers are in the custody of the Jordanian border patrol headquarters. The Philippine ambassador is coordinating directly with Jordanian authorities and is ready to receive the 21 peacekeepers,” he said.
Burgos said the group’s commander had already met with the freed men, adding that they would be staying in a hotel in Amman for two days before being transferred back to the UNDOF.
The 21 Filipino troops had been on duty under UNDOF since November. They have until May to complete their six-month tour before sent home.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also stressed the impartiality of the UNDOF the men were serving with and called on all parties to respect their freedom of movement and safety.
“The Philippines stresses the impartiality of UNDOF and its mandate to monitor the Disengagement of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria and strongly reiterates its call on all parties to respect the freedom of movement and safety and security of peacekeepers in UNDOF,” the DFA said.
The Philippine Star