MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines' foreign ministry on Wednesday called for the immediate release of four Filipino U.N. peacekeepers who were detained by armed rebels in the Golan Heights.
"The Philippines government condemns the abduction in the strongest possible terms that calls on all parties concerned to affect the immediate and safe release of these Filipino peacekeepers. The Philippines underscores that the apprehension and the illegal detention of peacekeepers are gross violations of international law," Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez.
Syrian rebels from the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade said in a statement on Tuesday (May 7) they were holding four Filipino U.N. peacekeepers on the ceasefire line between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights after clashes in the area had put them in danger.
A picture accompanying the rebel statement showed four peacekeepers wearing light-blue U.N. flak jackets marked "Philippines".
"The Philippines calls on the Security Council to exert all efforts and use its influence for the early and safe release of the Filipino peacekeepers and ensure that the freedom of movement and safety and security of peacekeepers in all UN peacekeeping missions are observed," Hernandez said.
The peacekeepers were serving with the Filipino battalion of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), tasked with maintaining the ceasefire between Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights.
The four were seized as they patrolled close to an area where 21 Filipino observers were held for three days in March. U.N. spokeswoman Josephine Guerrero said the area was Position 86, near the southern end of the narrow "area of separation" between Syrian and Israeli forces.
The Philippine government is evaluating its deployment of UN peacekeepers.
"There have been no changes as far as deployment is concerned and I think this is also under review. The Philippine side is reviewing the deployment of the Philippine UN
peacekeepers in those areas," Hernandez said.
Spokesperson of the Philippine Armed Forces, Domingo Tutaan, said the peacekeepers have not been harmed.
"They are taken hostage by these armed rebels, but the thing is, we haven't heard any adverse reports as far as their condition is not good, or bad, as far as this is concerned," Tutaan said.
"The AFP (Armed Forces Philippines) is saddened by this incident, definitely, considering that it is our personnel who have been abducted in this incident that took place yesterday," he added.
Syria's two-year uprising has increasingly seeped into sensitive frontiers, threatening to draw other countries closer to a conflict that has already killed more than 70,000 people in Syria.