Fiji says Syria insurgents to release peacekeepers

Written By kom nampultig on Rabu, 10 September 2014 | 08.20

SUVA: Fiji's military chief said on Wednesday that Syrian insurgents have agreed to release 45 United Nations peacekeepers later this week without conditions.

Brig. Gen. Mosese Tikoitoga said Fiji had received word from UN headquarters in New York that the Nusra Front would release the men in the coming days without any conditions or demands. He didn't give a precise timetable or specifics of how the handover would take place.

The al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front had earlier listed three demands for releasing the Fijian peacekeepers it took captive August 28.

The group had demanded to be taken off the UN terrorist list, wanted humanitarian aid delivered to parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, and wanted compensation for three of its fighters it says were killed in a shootout with UN officers.

Tikoitoga said friendships that Fiji had built through peacekeeping over the years had contributed to the positive outcome, and "have not gone unnoticed by the Syrian people."

He said three senior Fijian Army officers, led by Land Force Commander Liutenant-Colonel Jone Kalouniwai, had left today for Syria.

The Fijian peacekeepers had been stationed in the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel. There has been heavy fighting in the area since Syrian rebels captured a border crossing near the abandoned town of Quneitra last month.

Fighters from al-Qaida's Syria branch abducted the Fijian peacekeepers and surrounded two Filipino contingents serving as peacekeepers the following day. The Filipino troops later escaped.

The UN force, known as UNDOF, was established in May 1974 following intensified firing on the Israel-Syria border after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967, and Syria has campaigned for decades for return of the land.

For nearly four decades, the UN monitors helped enforce a stable truce between Israel and Syria but the Golan Heights has increasingly become a battlefield in the more than three-year-old Syrian conflict.

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