Friday 18 January 2019

Irish troops to leave Mideast war zone 'if risks not reduced'

IRISH soldiers will be withdrawn from the Israeli-Syrian border unless specific risk-reduction measures are introduced.

Defence Minister Simon Coveney said Ireland would quit the Golan Heights peace-keeping mission, along with Dutch UN troops, unless such measures were implemented.

His comments came as it emerged that elite Irish UN troops played a central role in bringing 45 kidnapped Fijian peacekeeping colleagues to safety.

Mr Coveney welcomed the release of the troops kidnapped in Syria by al-Qaida linked rebels on August 28.

A week after rescuing the Filipinos, the Irish were instrumental in getting them to safety after their negotiated release by the anti-Assad regime militia al-Nasurah.

But Mr Coveney wants risk-reduction measures if Irish soldiers are to remain in the war-torn region.

These are expected to include the abandonment of exposed UN posts in the 60km by 1km mission zone, the relocation of bases to less vulnerable areas and the reinforcement of other bases.


The minister, who has met senior UN chiefs over Ireland's concerns, will be in New York later this month when he will demand specific guarantees on mission safety.

Mr Coveney said Irish troops had performed skilfully and professionally over the past fortnight despite the dramatic change in conditions.

But he warned that he will demand specific additional safety measures from the UN.

He said: "I was in Italy this week at an EU Defence Council of Ministers meeting and I met with the head of the UN peacekeeping structures and we are talking about a process in which Ireland can be reassured on the management of risk.

"I have made it very clear to him that we want to be helpful to the UN - we recognise that Ireland has a pivotal role to play in that mission and we would like to stay, but we will not stay if they do not make the necessary structural changes to adapt to the new realities on the ground."


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