UN chief praises Qatar role in release of 4 peacekeepers


UN peacekeepers held by rebelsQatar played a key role negotiating the release of four Filipino peacekeepers seized by Syrian rebels in the UN patrolled Golan Heights ceasefire zone, UN officials and diplomats said Sunday.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon praised Qatar’s role as he welcomed the release of the four who had been held for five days.

Ban “appreciates the assistance of Qatar and of others involved in securing their safe release,” said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

It is the second time in two months that Filipino peacekeepers from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan have been seized by the Syrian rebel group. Twenty-one troops were held for four days in March.

“This time the rebels felt under pressure and took more convincing to free the soldiers,” said a UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Qatar’s role was important.”

The UN did not immediately give any details of the negotiations or release.

“The secretary general again emphasizes to all parties the impartiality of United Nations peacekeepers,” said Nesirky.

Ban “calls on all parties to respect UNDOF’s freedom of movement and the safety and security of its personnel,” the spokesman added.

UNDOF has been in the Golan Heights since 1974 monitoring a ceasefire between Syria and Israel and Syria.