By: Sean Curry
45 Fijian United Nations peacekeepers, who had previously been captured and held hostage for roughly two weeks by an Al-Qaida-linked militant group known as the Nusra Front, have been confirmed as being released back to the UN without any harm. A statement was released by the UN press office claiming “Today […] the 45 Fijian peacekeepers who had been detained were handed to UNDOF”, it continues “All the 45 peacekeepers are in good condition and will proceed back to Camp Foar for medical assessment.”
The Fighters of Nusra Front captured the peacekeepers two weeks ago, on August 28th, after they overran the Quneitra border crossing, located in the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria, by surprising the U.N. troops stationed there. The border crossing is designated a buffer zone by the UN and contained roughly 1,200 UN peacekeepers at the time. The area along the frontier has been engulfed in an extreme amount of fighting between the various rebel groups and the Syrian military.
The release of the Fijian troops comes just a few hours after the Nusra Front posted a video online that contained two Arab men with the 45 captive peacekeepers sitting in the background as the two men deliver short speeches in Arabic. In the video, the two men describe their version of the series of events that led up to the eventual capture of the Fijian soldiers, and claim that they had given their word that the soldiers would not be harmed. The two men then professed that their ultimate goal was to coordinate a prisoner exchange and to have humanitarian aid delivered to the besieged parts of Syria. At the end of the video, a Fijian soldier speaks to the camera, saying “By the way, we are all safe and alive, and we thank Jabhat al-Nusra for keeping us safe and keeping us alive. I’d like to assure you that we have not been harmed in any way,” He continues on about the care they received “We understand that with the limited resources that they have, they have provided the best for us and we truly appreciate it and we thank them. We are thankful that Jabhat al-Nusra has kept its word and that we will be going home.”
The incident came as an all too somber reminder that the U.N. peacekeepers increasingly find themselves caught in the crossfire of the war zones they are deployed to in order to create and sustain a level of peace and security; causing many countries to withdrawal their troops from the region. The 1,200 man peace keeping force currently stationed in the area consists of soldiers from India, Ireland, Nepal, The Philippines, and the Netherlands.