An al-Qaeda linked Syrian rebel group has this morning tweeted a picture of at least 38 of the 44 Fiji soldiers they are holding prisoner at an unknown location.
The soldiers, part of a United Nations border monitoring force, were captured without a fight, on Friday. Another UN group made up of 38 Filipino soldiers refused to surrender and are still fighting.
The unverified picture shows the unarmed soldiers apparently health.
Fiji Broadcasting reports that Military Forces Commander General Mosese Tikoitoga will update the country later today on the fate of the soldiers being held by the group Al Nusra Front.
Tikoitoga admitted yesterday they do not know where their men are now being held.
He would not release the soldiers’ names, citing the sensitivity of talks with the Syrian rebels.
He said the UN was conducting talks with the captors.
“They confirmed that our men are safe and they are all well.
Tikoitoga said according to the leader of the Al- Nusra group, they had been moved to a location out of the range of any security forces (Syrian security forces).
“So their whereabouts at this stage, unfortunately, I cannot confirm and nor can the UNDOF (UN Disengagement Observer Force) team.”
Amidst growing questions over why the Fijians so quickly surrendered, Tikoitoga said it was too early to judge what had happened.
“I think from the (Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF)) perspective this is the first time it has happened to us, we’ll continue to look at our operating procedures, we will not shy away from our responsibility as international peacekeepers.
“We understand what the UN is trying to do in the region and we understand our role as good global citizens. I am very hopeful that we will get our soldiers back in time, judging from past experiences where all UN hostages have been returned in good health.”
The capture of the Fijians comes as their country heads into general elections on September 17, the first elections since 2006 and a military coup.
On Friday the military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama appealed for the release of the soldiers.
“These men are peacekeepers, not combatants in the Syrian conflict, and there is no need for them to be detained,” he said.
There are currently 1223 peacekeepers serving in UNDOF from the Philippines, Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands. UNDOF has been tasked with monitoring a cease-fire between Syria and Israel since 1974