Last week, Filipino and Fijian peacekeepers were given the same order to surrender their weapons to Syrian rebels. Who made the right choice?
Peacekeeping forces from two countries were caught in a similar situation, and were given the same order by their overall commander. Each took a different path – one defied it and the other followed – leading to different outcomes.
"At no stage in an operation would I expect any of my officers not to follow the decisions of the first commander....The Filipinos chose to do so and the
government has supported them for having chosen that path," Tikoitoga said
in new interview defending
the surrender. The situation of the Fijians was being compared to the Filipinos
who were able to escape. Philippines
“We cannot criticize them for it, nor can we follow the decision they have made. We live by our own ethos of following command," Tikoitoga added.
Forty Filipinos in the besieged UN facility Position 68 disobeyed Singha's orders to surrender their weapons and executed an unauthorized escape mission after a 7-hour firefight with rebels. (READ: Inside Filipino troops' 'greatest escape' in Golan)
Philippine military chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr said there was no guarantee that the Syrian rebels – among them members of the Al-Qaeda affiliate in
Al-Nusra Front – will not also take them hostage after they surrender their
While Filipinos celebrate the daring escape of their soldiers in the middle of the night when the rebels were asleep, Singha is telling Indian media that the move was an "act of cowardice."
"The higher UN echelon as well as the Indian Army agrees with me that the decision was correct. It is an act of cowardice to desert posts especially when a delicate ceasefire was in place....They broke the chain of command and UN orders," Singha was quoted in various Indian news outlets.
Singha said the Filipinos also endangered the lives of the 45 Fijian peacekeepers who were taken hostage by the Syrian rebels.
"The non-professional actions of the Filipino troops have endangered the lives of the Fijian soldiers. They have defied orders at a time when we had negotiated a ceasefire with the rebels to ensure that all troops in the conflict area could exit," Singha added.
The Philippine military has questioned Singha for using the Filipinos as "sacrificial pawns" to save the Fijians. Catapang said Singha should have extracted the Filipinos first, and the Philippine peacekeepers would later help rescue the Fijians.
Risks of surrender
Caught in the middle of the blame game is the UN, which has backed Singha and denied there was an order to for the Filipinos to surrender their weapons. UN Under Secretary for Peacekeeping Operations Herves Ladsous said the order was “not to shoot.”
said Singha verbally issued the order to surrender the weapons and supposedly
refused to put his order in writing. The new interviews with Singha and
Tikoitoga back the narration of the Filipinos, however. Philippines
Surrendering weapons to rebels is risky, as UN experience shows.
In 1993, 10 Belgian peacekeepers who surrendered to the ethnic Hutu extremists in
were executed. They were
members of UNAMIR, the UN Assistance for Rwanda . The Hutu militia is behind
a genocide of about 800,000 people
of the minority Tutsi community. Rwanda
The UN peacekeepers' role in
during the genocide was questioned as the world body was accused of allowing
the genocide by refusing to send in more troops to control the situation. Most
of the UNAMIR troops were pulled out after the execution of the peacekeepers. Rwanda
Singha, however, was confident of the talks with the Syrian rebels. A negotiated ceasefire would supposedly ensure that all troops could exit the conflict area. But the Filipinos claimed they monitored the rebels massing up after the 7-hour firefight and believed they would be "massacred" if they did not escape.
The crisis in Golan that started at 10 am Thursday, August 28, enters Week 2. The UN continues to demand for the unconditional release of the Fijian peacekeepers. Tikoitoga said there’s been a “lull” in the negotiation for their release, however.
The Al-Nusra Front earlier issued 3 demands: its deletion from the the UN terrorist list, compensation for 3 colleagues killed in firefights against peacekeepers, and humanitarian assistance for a town it dominates.
It is not clear if the 3 Syrian rebels were killed during the firefight with Filipinos. Syrian government forces also provided fire support to prevent the rebels from closing in the UN facility.
While the Fijians are new in Golan, they have a long experience in peacekeeping operations in the "Middle East, notably with UNIFIL in
with UNAMI in Iraq, and with
the Multinational Force in Sinai," according to the Fiji
been deploying to Golan since 2009 and has occupied high-level positions in the
UNDOF Command. Philippines
Singha in fact succeeded Filipino Natalio Ecarma III, now a defense undersecretary who was present in the war room in
that approved movements of the Filipino troops in Golan. Manila
Before the standoff, the
decided to pull out the peacekeepers when their tour of duty ends in October. Philippines