Doubts over release of captive U.N. peacekeepers

A U.N. peacekeeper carries equipment at the Syrian-Israeli border.

A U.N. peacekeeper carries equipment at the Syrian-Israeli border.

Fiji on Wednesday retracted a claim that 45 U.N. peacekeepers being held hostage in the Golan Heights by Syrian Al-Nusra Front rebels were about to be released, blaming a communications mix-up.

“I don’t think so… someone has misinterpreted,” government spokesman Dan Gavidi told Agence France-Presse when asked if posts on official social media feeds on Wednesday morning trumpeting the impending release were correct.

The government later deleted the posts and released a statement saying negotiations with the rebels were continuing.

The peacekeepers, all Fijian nationals, were taken hostage two weeks ago when the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra fighters stormed a Golan Heights crossing.

The U.N. sent a specialist negotiating team from New York to hold talks with the rebels, who moved the Fijians to an undisclosed location after capturing them.

When quizzed about Suva’s claims of a breakthrough, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said he had “nothing new to report on the Fijians.”

Another UN official, who asked not to be named, said: “We have nothing to report. It is a delicate situation and nobody was released.”

The Fiji government statement said efforts to secure the peacekeepers’ release were ongoing and talks on the issue had been “progressive.”

“We are confident that… this process will secure the safe release of the 45 peacekeeping troops,” it said.

The Fijian military last week revealed the rebels were demanding the removal of the Al-Nusra Front from a U.N. terror blacklist and humanitarian aid for a town just outside Damascus that is an Al-Nusra stronghold.

Unconfirmed reports in Fiji’s media said the hostage takers also wanted the release of Abu Mussab al-Suri, also known as Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, an Al-Qaeda leader who was arrested in Pakistan in 2005 and is now being held by Syrian authorities.

The Fijians are part of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which has been stationed in the Golan Heights since 1974 to monitor a ceasefire between Israel and Syria.

There are currently 1,200 peacekeepers from the Philippines, Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands.

 
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