EU joins calls for Filipino peacekeepers’ release-A A +A
Friday, March 8, 2013
MANILA -- The European Union (EU) added on Friday its voice among members of the international community who are calling for the release of 21 Filipino peacekeepers captured by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights.
Catherine Ashton, high representative for foreign affairs, said in a statement that the organization is calling for the "immediate and unconditional release" of the Filipino troops deployed there for the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission.
The Filipinos were seized on March 6 by the Syrian rebels. They were taken near the Syrian village of Jamlah, a kilometer (less than a mile) from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, where a UN force has patrolled a ceasefire line between Israel and Syria for nearly four decades.
The Philippine Government is trying to win the release of the 21 Filipinos, as rebels stuck to demands Friday that regime forces first withdraw from the area where the hostages are being held.
Ashton, from her office in Brussels, said that EU "is alarmed by the detention of more than 20 peacekeepers from the Philippines."
"The EU condemns arbitrary detentions and actions such as hostage-taking as they are serious breaches of international law ... and demands the immediate and unconditional release of the peacekeepers," she added.
Government officials initially said they expected the UN troops to be freed Friday.
But a spokesperson for the rebel group said the Filipino troops will be held until forces of those loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pulls out from a Golan village.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in comments broadcast Friday, however, that Assad "is not bluffing" about his determination to stay in power.
Assad "is not going to leave," Lavrov said. "We know this for sure, and all those who get in touch with him know that he is not bluffing."
Lavrov said Russia, a close Syria ally, will not pressure Assad to leave.
"It's not for me to decide, it's not for anybody else to decide, except the Syrian people," Lavrov said.
The uprising against Assad erupted two years ago, with primarily peaceful protests deteriorating into a brutal civil war, initially in response to a harsh regime crackdown on dissent. More than 70,000 people have been killed, according to UN estimates.
The conflict has been deadlocked, with neither side able to get the upper hand, although the rebels have scored a series of strategic victories in recent weeks, seizing a provincial capital in the northeast, capturing the country's largest dam and overrunning a number of smaller military bases.
The rebel group also accused the UN peacekeepers of favoring Israel.
Golan Heights is a disputed territory between Syria and Israel, although parts of it are being controlled by Israel. A UN Disengagement Force has been monitoring a ceasefire between the two nations since 1974.
The 21 Filipino peacekeepers are part of the 300 Filipino contingent sent there in November 2010.
Three of the 21 detainees are officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The UN has earlier called on the rebels to release their captives.
The Philippine Government said that although the peacekeepers are "safe and unharmed," it is coordinating closely with the UN regarding their release.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in an earlier statement that the detention of the peacekeepers is in gross violation of international law. (CVB/AP/Sunnex)