The escape of the Filipino UN contingent from the clutches of the al-Nusra has a tragic-comic postscript. The Associated Press reports: “The Philippine military said Monday that a UN peacekeeping commander in the Golan Heights should be investigated for allegedly asking Filipino troops to surrender to Syrian rebels who had attacked and surrounded their camp.”
Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said he advised the 40 Filipino peacekeepers not to lay down their arms, and they defied the UN peacekeeping commander’s order. Instead, they staged a daring escape from the Golan camp over the weekend, ending a tense, days long standoff. …
The commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, or UNDOF, which supervises the peacekeeping mission in Golan, was overseeing talks with the Syrian rebels to secure the freedom of the Fijians. However, Catapang said he would not agree to any resolution of the hostage crisis that would put Filipino troops in grave danger.
When the besieged Filipino troops sought his advice after they were ordered to lay down their arms as part of an arrangement with the rebels to secure the Fijians’ release, Catapang said he asked them to defy the order.
“I told them not to follow the order because that is a violation of our regulation, that we do not surrender our firearms, and, at the same time, there is no assurance that you will be safe after you give your firearms,” Catapang said.
“Our stand is, we will not allow our soldiers to become sacrificial pawns in order to save the Fijians,” Catapang told The Associated Press. “They should look for other ways and means to save the Fijians.”
This explains the Fijian surrender. A friend of mine who served with the Australian forces in Afghanistan wrote to say he could not understand why the Fijians, who had a reputation for bravery, should lay down their arms. But if they were ordered to lay down their arms then all is clear. The Fijians may have been utterly loyal to their salt.
It was the Filipinos who were being their usual suspicious, “look over your shoulder” selves. According to the Rappler site, “Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr … demanded the investigation into UNDOF commander Lieutenant General Iqbal Singh Singha.”
UN had backchannel talks for the release of the Fijian peacekeepers and for the Syrian rebels to stand down in the standoff with the Filipino peacekeepers. …
“First, in the terms of reference, it was not indicated there that we can be ordered to surrender our firearms. The UNDOF commander wanted to save the Fijians at the expense of the Philippines,” Catapang told reporters Monday.
Catapang said there was never a guarantee that the Syrian rebels would not take the Filipinos hostage – similar to what they did with 44 Fiji soldiers – once they surrendered their weapons. “There’s no assurance na kapag binigay natin ‘yung baril natin – ngayon na-corner sila – the next move is to capture them and make them hostage. Lalong magiging malaki problema ni UNDOF commander,*” he said.
He wants Singha investigated by UNDOF. “We don’t need his apologies. What we need is an investigation [into why he issued the order.]”…
UN had backchannel talks for the release of the Fijian peacekeepers and for the Syrian rebels to stand down in the standoff with the Filipino peacekeepers.
(*There’s no assurance that if we laid down our arms — now that they were cornered — the next move is to capture them and make them hostage. The problems of the UN commander will only get worse,” he said. Note: Filipino officers have a habit of mixing English with Tagalog, sometimes in every other word or phrase.)
Singha may have been told that unless he told the Filipinos to surrender, the Fijians might be compromised. But Catapang did not play along. “The escape was executed without the approval of UNDOF.” In fairness to Singha, he was caught between the New York Headquarters rock and a hard place. By asserting his sovereign override, Catapang essentially took responsibility for resisting al-Nusra. Singh is off the hook and Catapang got his men out of a jam.
The Fijians are now in a tight spot. I wrote yesterday, it is in Nusra’s interest to let the Fijians go. If they want to incentivize surrender they must make it safe. Lately the al-Qaeda affiliates have reversed the usual payoffs. It is surrender you die, fight and you live. So why surrender? It was precisely out of fear of the consequences of surrender that the Filipino contingent resisted. Laban muna bago pugot ulo — ‘fight me first before you decapitate me’ — is only common sense.
The UN has a history of folding that goes back to Rwanda and Kosovo. In the past the UN apparatchiks have relied on the faithfulness of their subordinate commanders to take a bullet for the team. “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.” But Tennyson had never been to the Philippines where the word for blindly following orders is tanga — or sap.
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