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17 AUGUST 2009
GOLAN IS BIGGEST, MOST CHALLENGING PEACEKEEPING MISSION FOR RP
NEW YORK—The Golan Heights is going to be the biggest and most challenging overseas operation that the Philippines will be involved in since Manila expanded its support to United Nations peacekeeping efforts almost a decade ago, the Philippine Mission to the United Nations said today.
“The Golan Heights is not only going to be the biggest peacekeeping operation that the Philippines will be taking part in, it would also be the most challenging,” Ambassador Hilario G. Davide, Jr., Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said in his report to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto G. Romulo.
Ambassador Davide gave this assessment even as the Armed Forces of the Philippines began preparations for the participation in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights of the 336-member Philippine Battalion (PHILBATT)—the biggest peacekeeping contingent to be deployed overseas since the Philippines took part in UN operations in Timor Leste in 2000.
“The Philippines places particular importance in its participation in UNDOF not only because it will host the largest number of Filipino peacekeepers abroad but also because of the role it plays in helping the United Nations keep the peace in that part of the Middle East,” Ambassador Davide said.
UNDOF was an offshoot of the 1973 Yom Kippur War or the Arab-Israeli War and was established by Security Council Resolution 350 of 31 May 1974 to maintain the ceasefire and supervise the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces and the so-called Areas of Separation and Limitation as provided in the Agreement on Disengagement between the two parties.
The Philippines is slated to replace Poland in patrolling and monitoring the southern portion of the so-called Area of Separation—a hilly 80-kilometer stretch in the Golan Heights that has been under UN supervision since 1974. In addition to Poland, the other peacekeeping units presently involved in UNDOF are a combined infantry battalion from Austria and Croatia, which oversees the northern half of the Line of Separation, and support elements from India, Japan and Canada.
Citing the report of First Secretary Elmer G. Cato, who led a five-member delegation that visited the area early this month, Ambassador Davide said the PHILBATT is expected to conduct static, mobile and night operations out of Camp Ziouani and from the six permanent positions and five observation posts along the Line of Separation that are presently manned by Polish peacekeepers.
The five-member Philippine Delegation, who included Col. Gregorio Catapang, of the Department of National Defense; Col. Gregory Cayetano, commanding officer of the Peacekeeping Operations Center of the Armed Forces of the Philippines; Lt. Col. Emmanuel Ramos of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics; and Maj. Ferdinand Ga of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, met with UNDOF officials and visited the area of operations from August 4 to 9 in preparation for the deployment of the PHILBATT in October.
According to Ambassador Davide, the Golan Heights poses a significant challenge to the Philippines since it is different from the other peacekeeping missions that the country is taking part in such as those in Liberia and Haiti where Filipino peacekeepers are not in the frontlines but are tasked to secure the UN headquarters in Monrovia and Port-au-Prince.
“The Golan Heights brings our peacekeepers to the frontlines,” the ambassador said, adding that no less than United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had said that the situation remains very tense and that it was likely to remain so until a comprehensive settlement covering all aspects of the Middle East problem was reached. “While no major incident has taken place in the UNDOF area of operation, hostilities could break out any time.”
In addition, Ambassador Davide said members of the PHILBATT also face risks from landmines and unexploded ordnance along the UN-supervised Area of Separation that have separated Israeli and Syrian forces for the past 35 years. Increased civilian presence along the Syrian side resulting from ongoing construction activities is also a cause for concern, he said.
The Philippines presently ranks No. 29 in the UN list of top troop contributing countries with a total of 611 military and police personnel deployed in Afghanistan, Cote d’ Ivoire, Darfur, Haiti, Liberia, Sudan and Timor Leste as of July 2009. It is also the third largest contributor from Southeast Asia next to Indonesia and Malaysia. ###
ELMER G. CATO First Secretary & Press Officer Philippine Mission to the United Nations 556 Fifth Avenue, Fifth Floor New York, New York 10036 Tel. No. 212.764.1300 Extension 38
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