MILITARY Commander Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga has called on the nation to pray for the safe release of 44 Fijian soldiers held captive by a militant rebel group in the Golan Heights.
In a press conference yesterday, Brig-Gen Tikoitoga said the soldiers, who were captured on Thursday, were safe as negotiations for their release continued.
He said following a briefing session, the commanding officer in Syria at 4.30pm (8.10am- Syria) yesterday informed him the soldiers were well and in good health.
Brig-Gen Tikoitoga said they were taken into captivity by 150 armed rebels.
"At approximately 0730 hours (Thursday), three vehicle loads of armed elements of personnel close to 150 converged at position 27 main gate demanding the vacating of the position in 10 minutes," Brig-Gen Tikoitoga said.
"Since there was a restriction of movement within the area of separation, the force commander was advised accordingly and he directed the urgent sitting of the crisis management meeting.
"The UN which is the crisis management team is the negotiating management team.
"They have continuously negotiated and have contacts with the local liaison officers of the armed elements and the government liaison officers."
He said the troops were taken away from position 27 and kept at an undisclosed location on Thursday but had been taken back there. All positions are now on high alert, he said, as negotiations continued to ensure the safety of the men.
He said while families have been informed, the RFMF would not withdraw from the peacekeeping mission.
"We will continue to do the job that we have been sent to do and all the troops have been continuously reminded of the importance of maintaining our integrity as a military force and as UN Contingent in Syria.
"We will not shy away from that responsibility under such circumstances and we will continue to work very hard for the release of our men and at the same time we have put all our men on high alert to ensure further incidents of this sort do not happen."
He said with this being the first incident, two reliable and senior officers were part of the group negotiating together with the UN for the release of the soldiers.
Brig-Gen Tikoitoga said the rebel group had not demanded anything in exchange for the release of the soldiers.
"We are in a very good relationship with all the armed elements and we have negotiated with them in the past but unfortunately this has happened during the turnover of troops," he said.