Manila (Philippines): The Philippines` top diplomat said on Wednesday that he had reversed an earlier recommendation and now backs an international appeal for more than 300 Filipino peacekeepers to stay in the increasingly dangerous Golan Heights for six months after the United Nations promised to bolster their security.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told a news conference that UN officials assured him in a recent meeting in New York that they would fulfil three conditions laid down by the Philippine government, including providing the peacekeepers, who are mostly Filipino Army troops, with more self-defence weapons and armour.
The Philippines has also asked the UN to increase the number of peacekeepers back to 1,250 as earlier agreed after a number of countries withdrew their contingents amid escalating hostilities. It also wants each batch of Filipino peacekeepers to be deployed for only six months instead of one year to allow for better assessment of security risks, del Rosario said.
Austria announced recently that it would remove its 377 peacekeepers from the 911-member UN peacekeeping force, which also includes troops from India who deal mostly with logistics. That left the Philippines with its 340 soldiers as the largest single contributor.
Croatia withdrew in March for fear its troops would be targeted. Japanese forces have also withdrawn.
"We said that we don`t want a situation where we`re the only ones exposed," del Rosario said.
He said the UN would likely get additional troops from Fiji and Ireland and expand the current contingent back to a force of 1,250 by October.
A recent UN Security Council resolution sought an additional USD 8 million to improve security of and acquire more weapons for the peacekeepers, but wanted them to have a one-year deployment. The one-year deployment, however, is to be enforced starting in 2015, so UN officials could still allow Filipinos to be replaced every six months before then, del Rosario said.