Syrian Rebels Issue Captive Demands 09/02 06:23
SUVA, Fiji (AP) -- Fiji's military commander said Tuesday that Syrian rebels
have issued three demands for the release of 45 Fijian peacekeepers they've
held captive for five days.
Brig. Gen. Mosese Tikoitoga said the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front wants to be
taken off the U.N. terrorist list, wants humanitarian aid delivered to parts of
the Syrian capital Damascus, and wants compensation for three of its fighters
it says were killed in a shootout with U.N. officers.
Tikoitoga didn't say if the demands would be seriously considered. He said
the U.N. had sent hostage negotiators to Syria to take over discussions from
"Negotiations have moved up to another level with the professional
negotiators now in place," he said.
The Nusra Front abducted the Fijian soldiers on Thursday and is holding them
at an unknown location. The rebels on Thursday also surrounded two Filipino
units serving in the U.N. mission that monitors the buffer zone between Israel
and Syria, but the Filipino troops escaped over the weekend.
In Manila, Philippines, military chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang
said the 40 Filipino peacekeepers who escaped had not accepted a rebel demand
that they give up their firearms and surrender because that would have put the
troops in grave danger.
Catapang said the rebel demands for the Fijians' release showed their true
nature. "We don't negotiate with terrorists," Catapang said. "We have machine
guns and crew-served weapons so if we give them our weapons, this will help
create an international problem."
Tikoitoga on Tuesday also released the names of the 45 detained Fijian
soldiers, who he said are led by Captain Savenaca Siwatibau Rabuka.
The commander asked Fiji's community and church leaders to help look after
the families of the captive troops and asked the public to also offer support.
"I appeal to all Fijians that while we pray for our soldiers in Syria that
we be sensitive to the families," he said, adding "the U.N. has assured us they
will use all of their available resources for the safe return of our soldiers."