By Alexis Romero, The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – The defense department is considering pulling out Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights and Liberia because of the volatile situation in the Middle East and the outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said yesterday the deployment of peacekeepers would be discontinued if they would not have enough protection from risks.
“If they are not given proper equipment and tools for their protection, we should not continue the deployment. We cannot put our soldiers at risk,” Gazmin said.
The military sends peacekeepers to Liberia, the Golan Heights and Haiti as part of its commitment to help the United Nations maintain global stability.
There are 332 peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, 115 in Liberia and 157 in Haiti.
Gazmin said the recommendation to pull out Filipino forces does not cover the peacekeeping operations in Haiti.
“We will not pull out all contingents. It may only be done in areas that are risky because of health and conflict,” the defense chief said.
Citing a military assessment, defense department spokesman Peter Galvez said the deployment of peacekeepers to Liberia and the Golan Heights has become risky.
“The risks are high because the situation in these areas remains volatile,” Galvez said in a phone interview.
The recommendation to pull the Filipino peacekeepers has been submitted to President Aquino.
Golan Heights is the subject of a dispute between Israel and Syria, a country torn by an ongoing conflict between the Syrian government and rebels.
Last year, 25 members of the 6th Philippine contingent were kidnapped in two separate incidents by Syrian rebels.
The first abduction happened in March, when 21 Filipino soldiers were seized in a ceasefire zone between Syria and Israel. Four peacekeepers were also abducted in the same area after two months.
All 25 peacekeepers were freed by their captors but the incidents raised concern among countries sending peacekeepers to the UN.
In June, a member of the same contingent was hurt after mortar rounds believed to have been fired by Syrian rebels landed inside Camp Ziouni, a UN logistics headquarters in Golan Heights.
Meanwhile, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone are suffering from Ebola virus outbreak, which has left more than 1,000 persons dead.
The UN has restricted the movement of peacekeepers to prevent them from getting infect.