The first batch of Philippine peacekeepers in the Golan Heights hit the ground running after arriving in their area of assignment, Philippine officials in the United Nations said Tuesday.
In its report to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Philippine Mission to the UN said 161 troops arrived in Damascus Sunday afternoon and quickly assumed their positions.
"The Filipino troops are expected to immediately start patrolling and monitoring the southern portion of the so-called Area of Separation — a hilly 80-kilometer stretch in the Golan Heights that has been under UN supervision since the end of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War," the DFA said, citing excerpts from the Philippine Mission to the UN's report.
Army Lt. Col. Milfredo Melegrito heads the first batch of the first Philippine Peacekeeping Contingent to the Golan Heights.
The Philippine contingent, including 28 officers and 133 enlisted men, is part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights.
It left the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Pampanga on board a UN-chartered aircraft past midnight Sunday.
A second batch of 161 officers and enlisted personnel will complete the deployment when they arrive in Syria on November 1, the DFA said.
The Philippine Mission said the Filipino peacekeepers established their headquarters at Camp Ziouani and took over positions that have been turned over by their Polish counterparts immediately upon arrival.
Joining them was the 14-man advance party that was deployed to the area two weeks ago to prepare for their arrival.
"The Philippine Contingent will form part of the 1,023-strong UNDOF peacekeeping force that also includes troops from Austria, Canada, Croatia, India and Japan who have been tasked by the Security Council to maintain the ceasefire and supervise the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces and the so-called Areas of Separation and Limitation between the two parties," the DFA said.
It added that Manila committed to send a total of 336 peacekeepers after the UN requested it to support UNDOF following the decision of Poland to end its peacekeeping presence in the Golan Heights where it has been serving since 1994.
Poland is expected to formally turn over command to the Philippines in ceremonies scheduled at Camp Ziouani on October 22.
But it will retain a presence in the area until after the Philippines completes its deployment next month.
"The Philippine presence in the Golan Heights is Manila’s biggest overseas deployment since it supported UN operations in East Timor in 2000 and is also considered the most challenging of all the UN peacekeeping missions the Philippines is participating in," the DFA said.
It said the deployment is expected to boost Philippine contributions to UN peacekeeping operations.
"In addition to the battalion-size unit it deployed to the Golan Heights, the Philippines also has contributed company-size units in Haiti and Liberia as well as military observers and staff officers in Cote d’ Ivoire, Kashmir, Sudan and Timor-Leste," the DFA said. - GMANews.TV