Philippines president Aquino criticises UN for mission 'impossible'

MANILA - Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Wednesday criticised the United Nations for refusing to better arm Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, saying this made their mission "impossible".

Mr Aquino said the UN's rejection of his request to give the peacekeepers more weapons had left them unnecessarily vulnerable when Al Qaeda-linked Syrian rebels attacked and surrounded them in August.

"Our troops cannot be part of a situation wherein their mission is impossible or unclear," Mr Aquino said during a ceremony at the presidential palace to award the Golan Heights troops military medals.

The Philippines, one of Asia's biggest suppliers of peacekeepers to UN missions, pulled out its 344-strong Golan Heights contingent last month because of the worsening security situation there.

It came after dozens of the peacekeepers engaged the Qaeda-linked rebels in a four-day standoff, refusing to surrender their arms, before escaping under the cover of night. The rebels also disarmed and abducted 45 Fijian peacekeepers, who were later freed unharmed.

"Our request for more arms was denied.... and our fears were realised when the standoff happened," Mr Aquino said.

Mr Aquino also said the entry of Qaeda-linked insurgents had complicated the peacekeeping missions, which were originally meant to police a ceasefire between Israel and Syria in the disputed territory.

"I keep on asking, what really is our mission in the Golan Heights? We are separating Syria and Israel, then the rebels entered the picture," he said.

Mr Aquino said a decision on whether to redeploy troops to the Golan Heights would depend on a UN investigation into the standoff. "We are waiting for the investigation of the UN on the incident and that will be the basis of our decision whether we will help with the needs of the world community," he said.

Mr Aquino instructed Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario to meet with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the investigation, foreign ministry spokesman Charles Jose told reporters.

Mr Jose clarified that only the Golan Heights deployment was under review and the Philippines was committed to other peacekeeping mission areas.

More than 100 Filipino peacekeepers were also recently recalled from Liberia because of the Ebola outbreak.

About 100 soldiers are in Haiti, three peacekeepers in the Ivory Coast, plus four in Indian and Pakistan. However the Golan Heights had been the Philippines' most heavily manned mission.