Fiji military backtracks on soldier release
Fiji military officials have suddenly backtracked after saying their captured soldiers were about to be freed from captivity in rebel-held Syria.
The military regime-controlled Ministry of Information said this morning the rebel group al Nusra had agreed to release the 45 Fiji soldiers who have been held at an unknown location for 13 days.
The soldiers, part of a United Nations border monitoring force on the Golan Heights on the Syria-Israel border, surrendered to al Nusra while fellow Filipino soldiers fought their way to freedom.
The Fiji statement quoted military head General Mosese Tikoitoga saying that he had received word from the UN that the men would be released unconditionally.
But the ministry has deleted its Facebook posting and replaced it with one quoting a so-called “ambassador at large”, General Ioane Naivalurua which said only that negotiations were continuing.
Naivalurua is in New York and said talks were continuing in the Golan region.
The new statement also quoted Tikoitoga as saying only that they were “actively working on the safe release of the Fijian troops”.
The New York Times quoted Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, saying he had no information about the Fijian Government’s assertion.
“Nothing new to report,” he said.
Al Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of al Qaeda, captured the peacekeepers on August 28.
The group described the action as retaliation for what it called the failure of the UN to help the people of Syria in that country’s civil war.
Fiji is heading to a democracy-restoring election on Tuesday, which is designed to end more than eight years of military rule.
The Fiji media, which frequently practises self-censorship, had made little reference to their soldiers being taken prisoner.
Most reporting is based on statements handed out by the ministry and Tikoitoga.