Last updated: 10 March, 2013

Philippine government welcomes release of peacekeepers

The Philippine government on Sunday welcomed the release of its 21 UN peacekeepers after they were freed by Syrian rebels and crossed into Jordan, where officials waited to receive them.

The troops, members of a UN force monitoring a 1974 ceasefire between Syria and Israel, were abducted on Wednesday.

President Benigno Aquino “was very happy to receive the news,” his spokeswoman Abigail Valte said.

“The president was very concerned and this is very good news indeed.”

The Foreign Department said in a statement that “the Philippine government and its people express deep appreciation to the Jordanian government and military officials” for their role in transporting and receiving the soldiers.

“The 21 peacekeepers are in the custody of the Jordanian border patrol headquarters,” military spokesman Colonel Arnulfo Burgos told reporters.

“The Philippine ambassador is coordinating directly with Jordanian authorities and is ready to receive the 21 peacekeepers,” he said after their ordeal ended on Saturday.

Burgos said the group’s commander had met with the freed men, and that they would stay at an Amman hotel for two days before being transferred back for duty with the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).

Army spokesman Colonel Randolph Cabangbang said the families of the soldiers had all been informed of their release and were grateful to everyone who helped.

“We updated them. During the first calls, many of them cried, especially the parents as they were thanking us for the news,” he told AFP.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs stressed the impartiality of the UNDOF contingent the men were serving with and called on all parties to respect their freedom of movement and safety.

The hostages were part of a 300-member Philippine Army force deployed with the force since November last year.