Philippines asks UN to protect abducted peacekeepers

The Philippines on Wednesday called on the United Nations Security Council to ensure the safety of peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, following the second abduction of Filipino forces in two months.

Syrian rebels on Tuesday seized four Filipinos serving in the UN peacekeeping contingent in the tense ceasefire zone between Syria and Israel.

"The Philippines underscores that the apprehension and illegal detention of peacekeepers are gross violations of international law," the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

"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."

The United Nations is still trying to contact and negotiate with the kidnappers, the statement said, but warned there was "heavy fighting" in the area.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario met with UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations Herve Ladsous late Tuesday to coordinate efforts to free the four, according to the statement.

It gave no details on the condition of the four, who were seized by an armed group while on patrol.

While the UN did not identify the kidnappers, the "Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade" rebel

group said in a Facebook posting it had taken the peacekeepers for their own safety because of fierce fighting in the area.

The rebel group was also behind the abductions of 21 Filipino peacekeepers from March 6 to 9. Those peacekeepers were released unharmed.

The March kidnappings sparked fears that the Philippines would pull out its troops from the already undermanned UN contingent in the Golan Heights, but the government later announced it remained committed to the mission.

The UN Disengagement Observer Force has been in the Golan Heights since 1974, monitoring a ceasefire between Syria and Israel. It has about 1,000 troops and civilian staff.

The troops, also from Austria, India, Morocco and Moldova, carry only very light arms.

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