It seems the real question that needs to be asked with regard to the role of Filipino troops deployed to United Nations peacekeeping missions in the Middle East is this:
Is it our war?
As the term “peacekeeper” implies, UN “peacekeeping” missions protect peace within their respective areas of responsibility. When there is no longer any “peace” to “keep”, the mission presumably ends and troops from states directly involved in the conflict that have been issued more, shall we say, conventional marching orders then take over.The situation in the Golan Heights had, in recent days, clearly deteriorated beyond the point where it can still be argued that the UN’s peacekeeping mission there (carried out by the UN Disengagement Observer Force, or UNDOF) remains relevant. The original peacekeeping mission in the Golan Heights involved largely enforcing the demilitarisation of the zone that has served as a buffer between Syria and Israel since 1974. But the enemy UN troops faced in this instance involved neither. The Islamist militants they were battling this time was an enemy of both Israel and Syria. Indeed, the survival and ensuing successful pullout of Filipino troops defending their positions there can be owed partly to artillery cover reportedly provided by Syrian troops.
Seen in this light, one can argue that UNDOF’s then Filipino chief of staff (and the force’s second-in-command) Col. Ezra Enriquez decision to defy the orders of UNDOF commander Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha was the right one. The situation in the Golan Heights, as many observers have noted was “fluid”. And in a fluid situation, the rules become gray. To highlight that point, the new, recently-appointed, Irish deputy commander of the UNDOF (replacing Enriquez who has since taken leave of the position) takes over even as the Irish government mounts a review to “re-evaluate” the role of their troops in the region.
As such, the position of the UN command on this matter, hinged on the technicalities of a mission that no longer fits the changed situation in the Golan Heights, now rings hollow…
According to the note, the COS of the mission — the Filipino officer who resigned — took orders from “Manila and acted with myopic focus only on the contingent, compromising the mission planning to ensure safety of all peacekeepers irrespective of contingents”.
According to Singha, the Filipino troops holed up in Positions 68 and 69 were ordered to surrender to the Islamist militants to ensure the safety of 45 Fijian peacekeepers that had earlier complied to his orders to surrender to the rebels. That these Fijian troops remain missing to this day punctuates the poignancy of a soldier’s plight under a fragmented command and a mission-turned-ambiguous. The Fijians are now clearly being used as hostages by the militants to further their cause…
Fiji commander’s Brig Gen Mosese Tikoitoga said on Tuesday that the Nusra Front has made three demands for the release of the peacekeepers: It wants to be taken off the UN terrorist list, wants humanitarian aid delivered to parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, and wants compensation for three of its fighters it says were killed in a shootout with UN officers.
The Nusra Front accused the UN of doing nothing to help the Syrian people since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011. It said the Fijians were seized in retaliation for the UN’s ignoring “the daily shedding of the Muslims’ blood in Syria” and even colluding with Assad’s army “to facilitate its movement to strike the vulnerable Muslims” through a buffer zone in the Golan Heights.
Even before this crisis, the Philippine government had already recognised the changed situation in the Golan Heights and mounted a withdrawal of its forces there. The UN for its part also needs to start changing the way it sees its role there.[Photo courtesy DW.de.]
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