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Philippines to stay in Golan if security is boosted

July 5, 2013 10:25 A.M. (Updated: July 6, 2013 7:01 A.M.)
MANILA (AFP) -- The Philippines said Friday it would keep its 340 peacekeepers in the Golan Heights provided it gets requested additional heavier weapons and protection.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino would reject a proposal to pull the Filipinos out if the United Nations met his requests to boost security, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement.

"Subject to meeting considerations which the Philippines has made to enhance the security and safety of our peacekeepers, the president has expressed the Philippines is prepared to continue its UNDOF participation," he said.

Aquino said last month the Philippine troops needed anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, and protection against chemical warfare.

Escalating violence against the UN Disengagement Observer Force, which monitors a 1974 truce between Israel and Syria, has seen other countries pull out their troops.

Austria, previously the top contributor, will withdraw its 377 soldiers by the end of this month, leaving a force of 530 from the Philippines and India.

The brief abductions of 25 Filipino peacekeepers by Syrian rebels this year, as well as the wounding of a soldier at a UNDOF outpost, prompted del Rosario to recommend to Aquino that all the country's troops be withdrawn.

Del Rosario said Friday that Aquino had decided the Philippine contingent would definitely remain until August 11. A presence after that would depend on whether the extra security was provided.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday the UN was "seriously concerned" about its shrinking peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights and was seeking to recruit troops from Europe to fill the gap.

Fiji has agreed to send 500 soldiers.

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