July 13, 2013
Under the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), Nepal is set to send 230 soldiers to the strategically sensitive Golan Heights-Syria-Israel border area where the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has been in place since 1974.
The first batch are130 Nepali peacekeepers currently in Lebanon as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). They will be immediately deployed. (850 Nepali peacekeepers are already with UNIFIL.)
And additional 100 Nepali peacekeepers will be dispatched from Nepal at the beginning of September.
This move comes on the heels of a warning, issued by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, that tensions have risen alarmingly between Syria and Israel and that it is important to enhance the self-defense capacity of the UN Mission in the disputed Golan Heights area.
Excerpt from June 13, 2013 UN press release, based on Mr. Ban’s latest report to the Security Council:
Citing spill over from the ongoing crisis in Syria, where Government and armed opposition groups are locked in a spiralling conflict which has in turn sparked tensions in the Golan between Syria and Israel, the Secretary-General recommends that the Council extend the UN force’s mandate for six more months, until December 31st.
Noting that the Governments of both Syria and Israel backed the mandate extension, Mr. Ban goes on to recommend that the Council consider, “as a matter of priority,” adjustments to UNDOF, including enhancing its self-defence capabilities and boosting its force strength by about 300 to some 1,250 troops.
These proposals come as UNDOF, which monitors the 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel after their 1973 war, has faced a spate security risks and operational challenges.
Just last week, Security Council members expressed concern at the resurgence of fighting in the Golan Heights and at the prospect of countries withdrawing their troops from UNDOF. This followed the recent injury of two peacekeepers amid intense fighting in the area of separation.
Also, since early March UNDOF peacekeepers have twice been captured in the Golan Heights area and held for brief periods by armed groups. Each incident ended with the troops being released unharmed.
In addition, Austria – which contributes about one-third of UNDOF's troops – announced on 6 June its decision to withdraw its soldiers, reportedly citing a lack of freedom of movement and an unacceptable level of danger to its personnel.
Speaking to the press at UN Headquarters today, the Secretary-General’s Spokesman, Martin Nesirky, announced that, regarding Austria’s troop withdrawal, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has requested the Austrian authorities to ensure that the Mission’s operational requirements and the possible negative impact on implementing the mandate.
“Specifically, [DPKO] formally requested Austria to complete the withdrawal of its personnel no earlier than the end of July to ensure a smooth transition with incoming troop-contributing countries and a continued UN presence in critical UNDOF positions such a Mount Hermon,” the Spokesman said.
In view of the difficult conditions on the ground, Mr. Nesirky said, Austria was also requested to leave all its equipment within UNDOF. “This equipment is essential to support remaining and incoming peacekeepers in the implementation of the Mission’s mandate, he continued, adding that DPKO is “urgently approaching possible troop contributing countries to replace Austria.”
“The Department of Peacekeeping Operations says that it trusts that Austria, given its long-standing and valuable contribution to the Mission, will keep the interest of the Mission at heart while withdrawing its personnel,” he said.
In his report, Mr. Ban calls on all parties to the Syrian conflict to cease military actions inside the country, including in the UNDOF area of operation. Further, he says the threats by Syrian leaders to act against Israel on the Golan undermine the Disengagement Agreement
Mr. Ban says also he remains “deeply concerned” about incidents involving UN personnel on the ground, and stresses that the safety of UN personnel is essential for UNDOF to continue to implement its mandate under difficult conditions.
“It is equally critical that the Security Council continue to bring its influence to bear on the parties concerned to ensure that UNDOF is accorded the ability to operate freely and securely within its area of operations in order to be able to carry out its important mandate,” the UN chief adds.
Apart from Syria, Nepali soldiers are currently working under the UN flag in eleven other countries – all of which are of deep international concern:
Nepal became a member of the United Nations in 1955 and since then, has been an active participant of most UN endeavors. The participation of Nepalese Army in the UN peacekeeping operations spans a period of 53 years covering 37 UN Missions, in which over 95,954 personnel have participated. The Army’s long association with UN Peace Support Operations began with the deployment of five Military Observers in the Middle East (United Nations Observer Group in Lebanon) in 1958. The first Nepalese contingent, Purano Gorakh battalion was deployed in Egypt in 1974. The Nepalese Army has contributed force commanders, elite military contingents, impartial military observers and dedicated staff officers. Throughout the decades, their performance has been widely acclaimed worldwide.