Peacekeepers taken by Syrian rebels released
Updated: 2013-03-10 16:57
Jordanian Chiefs-of-Staff Mashal Al Zaben (R) welcomes Filipino U.N. peacekeepers, part of a group of 21 peacekeepers held by rebels for three days in southern Syria, at the headquarters of the General Command of the Jordanian Army in Amman March 9, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]
UNITED NATIONS - The 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers held since Wednesday by Syrian rebels were released on Saturday, unharmed and safe in Jordan, a peacekeeping spokeswoman told Xinhua.
Josephine Guerrero, spokeswoman for the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, said she had few details of the release but was able to confirm that they were taken by the rebels to Jordan, rather than back to their base, as earlier anticipated.
From the border they went to the capital of Amman, she said, adding that they were unharmed.
There were published reports the captors and members of the Syrian armed forces had clashed, blocking the peacekeepers' return to the base.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the release of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) members "who had been detained in the vicinity of Al Jamla in the area of limitation," a spokesman for Ban said in a statement issued here Saturday. "He appreciates the efforts of all concerned to secure their safe release."
"The secretary-general emphasizes to all parties the impartiality of UN peacekeepers," said the statement. "UNDOF is on the ground to monitor the Disengagement of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria."
"The secretary-general calls on all parties to respect UNDOF's freedom of movement and the safety and security of its personnel," it added. "He also calls on them to respect and uphold the protection of civilians."
Guerrero told Xinhua Friday that arrangements had been made " with all parties for the release of all 21 peacekeepers" but that "due to late hours and darkness," the release was delayed until Saturday out of safety considerations.
Only hours earlier on Friday, Herve Ladsous, the UN peacekeeping chief, briefed the UN Security Council and later told reporters here at the UN headquarters that he hoped a possible brief ceasefire would enable negotiations for their release. " There is a possibility that a ceasefire of a few hours can intervene, which would allow for our people to be released."
Apparently those plans broke down.
The peacekeepers were detained by armed elements linked to the Syrian opposition on Wednesday within UNDOF's area of limitation on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights east of the area of separation, or UNDOF's demilitarized zone, and had been held in the basements of various houses in Al Jamla, he said.