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Continued: Capture of 45 Fiji troops in Syria raises questions about their role as UN peacekeepers

  • Article by: NICK PERRY , Associated Press
  • Last update: September 3, 2014 - 5:05 AM

He said his soldiers have never before faced the level of radicalism they've found in Syria.

"These Fijian soldiers have watched armed elements behead people beside their gate," he said. "That would have weakened anybody in their right mind."

Tikoitoga said the Fijians were overmatched with the firepower of the insurgents and he agreed with the decision by the U.N. peacekeeping commander to surrender and turn over their weapons.

"The question running through the commander's mind was, 'Do I become a tiger and fight? Or do I become a cat and fight another day?'" Tikoitoga said.

The Philippine military says it defied a similar U.N. request to surrender when its troops were surrounded by the insurgents; they pulled off a daring escape instead. The Philippine military says a U.N. commander should be investigated as a result.

Baledrokadroka, the former Fijian commander, said it was "quite disturbing" to see the Fijians surrender while the Filipinos escaped.

"It's the duty of every soldier to not be disarmed, to resist being captured," he said. "It's a shock to every former soldier like me to know this has happened. It's quite a big blow to our martial traditions. Fijians have been known as warriors down through the ages."

But Philippine Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said the Fijians may have had little choice because they were cornered after they retreated to a bunker.

U.N. peacekeeping spokespeople could not be immediately reached for comment this week.

Fiji's commander says the nation won't abandon its mission in Syria, and he is even willing to replace the 45 troops if they need to recuperate if and when they are released.

Baledrokadroka said he finds that attitude staggering.

"This is incredible," he said. "When you look at other democratic countries, they're looking at pulling out, but this regime in Fiji is just doing things unilaterally."

Austria and Croatia pulled their Golan Heights peacekeepers last year over fears they would be targeted. The Philippines has said it's leaving in October, and Ireland has threatened to withdraw. Among the 1,250 troops remaining are those from India, Nepal and the Netherlands.

The U.N. pays nations $1,028 each month per soldier — not enough to pay the wages of troops in developed nations but above the going rate in poorer ones like Fiji.

Baledrokadroka said his understanding is that while the Fiji military used to pocket the difference, the Fijian troops are now getting the full reimbursement rate, which, in turn, is attracting plenty of new recruits.

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