Sept. 3 – The Security Council will receive Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on the UNDOF mission in the Golan Heights on Sept. 12 and is set to meet with peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous over the future of the mission six days later.
Forty-five Fijian UNDOF peacekeepers taken hostage last week by Al Nusra remain in captivity.
Ladsous spoke to reporters at UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday and backed UNDOF force commander Iqbal Singh Singha amid reports that he ordered a Filipino contingent to hand over their weapons to the Al Nusra militants holding the Fijian troops.
He said the Filipino troops were told to “keep their weapons quiet” but not to surrender them.
He added that the Dept. of Peacekeeping Operations is looking at “the way the force is configured.”
The Philippines announced in August that it is withdrawing its troops from UNDOF at the end of September citing security concerns (it is also withdrawing its troops from UNMIL in Liberia over the Ebola outbreak).
Ireland’s Defence Minister Simon Coveney told Morning Ireland on Monday that the Irish government would seek a review of the mission before deciding whether to send new troops when the current contingent end their tour of duty at the end of September.
Ban Ki-moon recommended over a year ago that the force’s self-defense capabilities be enhanced. While the force has received more robust armor, it is understood that both the UN Secretariat and troop contributing countries believe the Security Council has not done enough to ensure UNDOF has the defensive equipment it needs.
Irish troops, along with the Fijian contingent, were deployed after Japanese, Croatian and Austrian troops withdrew last year because of the security situation. Austria had been the longest serving contributor to the mission, having joined UNDOF when it was formed in 1974 to observe the ceasefire agreement between Syria and Israel following the end of the 1973 war.
The Council also increased the size of the force in June last year by about 300 troops. It’s current configuation has over 1,200 troops from six countries.
Ladsous said on Wednesday that in addition to Al Nusrah there are about six or seven other armed opposition groups operating in the area of separation.
In Ban Ki-moon’s report to the Council in June this year, he outlined a number of incidents in which the security of UNDOF troops was threatened. As a result of the security situation, Ban is required to report on UNDOF every three months instead of the usual six.
In his June 2014 report, Ban wrote that armed opposition groups were tailing UNDOF patrols, presumably as protection from Syrian government forces, that two peacekeepers were injured by a tank round on July 7, and that another patrol witnessed members of an armed group walking past its post with a severed head.
- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz