Risky mission

Fiji peacekeepers could be the first to feel the brunt of any spill-over from the civil war in Syria if the situation between the Israeli and Syria governments near the border at the Golan Heights is not resolved.

The United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ military adviser at the Office of Military Affairs, Lieutenant-General Babacar Gaye, confirmed to The Fiji Times that about 170 personnel from Fiji would join the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) mission at the Golan Heights to replace troops from three countries that have withdrawn because of fierce fighting at the border they guard.

He made the comment as the US decided to arm Syrian rebels fighting government forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The US-based its decision on intelligence reports that Syrian forces were using chemical weapons.

The fighting – which has killed 92,901 people in the two-year conflict according to the UN – has spilled on to the Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria, on Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The UN has monitored a ceasefire truce between Syria and Israel since 1974 but that is under threat with incursions and firing across the border at Quineitra.

Croatian and Japanese troops have already pulled out, followed by the Austrians.

While Lt-Gen Gaye couldn’t reveal how many of the 170 personnel were military and medical, he confirmed that Fiji had offered to contribute to UNDOF when the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations held discussions with a number of member states seeking to strengthen troop numbers in Syria.

He confirmed a three-member team from Fiji visited UNDOF from May 14 to May 21 in preparation for the deployment of the contingent.

“We expect them to be in the Golan by the end of June,” Lt-Gen Gaye said.

“The Department of Peacekeeping Operations is grateful to the Government of Fiji as the United Nations continues peacekeeping on the Golan.”

UN Peacekeeping spokesman Kieran Dwyer said Fiji would join the 341 troops from the Philippines and 193 troops from India who were part of UNDOF at the Golan.

“Fijian peacekeepers will be part of the mission which monitors the actions of both the Israeli and Syrian armed forces within the mission’s area of operations, and communicates with both sides to ensure that potential tensions do not escalate into a return of the ceasefire,” Mr Dwyer said.

The Republic of Fiji Military Forces, however, would not comment on the planned mission, only saying the government would issue a statement after a Cabinet sitting tomorrow.

This is Fiji’s first contribution to UNDOF since it was established by the Security Council on May 31 1974.

– FIJI TIMES