43 Fijian peacekeepers held captive by Syrian rebels

A Syrian rebel group has captured 43 Fijian peacekeepers from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) Friday 29 in Golan Heights after forcing them to surrender their weapons.

The Fijian Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, said on Friday that talks were under way to release the hostages and they were believed to be safe.

"I want to assure the families of the soldiers we are doing everything possible to secure their safe return," he said.

"The latest information we have is that they are safe and I can say now that the negotiations for their release have already begun."

In a statement issued by United Nations’ Secretary Ban ki Moon, he called for the immediate release of the detained peacekeepers, as well as for the immediate lifting of the restrictions on the movement of the Force.

The Security Council made a similar call in a press statement: “The members of the Security Council demanded the unconditional and immediate release of all the detained United Nations peacekeepers and called upon all parties to cooperate with UNDOF in good faith to enable it to operate freely and to ensure full security of its personnel.

“They called on countries with influence to strongly convey to the armed members of the opposition in the UNDOF area of operation to immediately release the peacekeepers.”

UNDOF peacekeepers were previously detained by armed elements in March and May of 2013 and were released safely.

“The United Nations is making every effort to secure the release of the detained peacekeepers, and to restore full freedom of movement of the Force throughout its area of operation,” UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told reporters in New York today.

Peacekeepers serving with UNDOF monitor the 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel after their 1973 war. In June, the Security Council extended the mission’s mandate until 31 December 2014.

As of 31 July 2014, there are 1,223 peacekeepers from six countries – Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands, and the Philippines – serving in UNDOF.

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