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Going Golan

Tevita Vuibau
Monday, September 01, 2014

THE military has started selection of soldiers to replace the 44 Fijian peacekeepers who are captives of Islamist militants in the Golan Heights.

And RFMF commander Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitoga says there is no shortage of Fijian soldiers willing to replace them.

During a press conference yesterday morning, Brig-Gen Tikoitoga said Fiji remained committed to the UNDOF mission.

"In fact, yesterday, we started selection of the next 44 to go and replace the 44 that are now in captivity," Brig-Gen Tikoitoga said. "If it happens that they've gone through some traumatic experience and need to be returned home, we have 44 ready to replace them."

As of yesterday evening, all Filipino peacekeepers trapped by Islamic militants on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights were safely evacuated. But nothing is known of the whereabouts of the Fijian peacekeepers captured by Al Nusra militants on Friday.

Brig-Gen Tikoitoga says their best guess is the 44 will be used as leverage in negotiations with the United Nations.

"We can only now guess what they want and the closest that we can come to is they will probably use our guys as leverage for something.

"But I don't think it's anything more than that. They know Fiji can't offer anymore than what we have soldiers on the ground."

The RFMF commander was pragmatic of the effect this approach will have on the al-Qaida linked Al-Nusra faction.

"Do they get political mileage for this? Maybe they do.

"But sooner or later they will be very unpopular because the whole world will come down against them."

Meanwhile, as families trickled in to the crisis centre at the Officers Training School in Vatuwaqa for news of their loved ones, unverified photos of the captured 44 were making the rounds on social media.

The photos, one a group shot and the second a photo of the peacekeepers ID cards, were allegedly posted by Al-Nusra.

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