Suva (Fiji) (AFP) - Fiji military officials confirmed Saturday they no longer know the whereabouts of 44 peacekeepers captured by Al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights.
"Their whereabouts at this stage, unfortunately, I cannot confirm," Brigadier Mosese Tikoitoga told reporters after speaking to the head of the UN team negotiating for their release.
"They confirmed that our men are safe and they are all well. (But) they have been moved to a location out of the bombardment range of any security forces or the Syrian security forces.
"It is out of the UN territory. But again it's the word of the group. We've got no verification what so ever, no communication but we're only relaying the message that was delivered to us by the negotiators."
The Fijians were captured on Wednesday when armed Syrian rebels linked to the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, stormed a Golan Heights crossing.
Another group of 72 Philippine peacekeepers refused to surrender and remain locked down in two camps on the Syrian side of the border.
The soldiers are serving in the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) stationed in a buffer zone to monitor a ceasefire between Syria and Israel since 1974.
The UN has revised an earlier figure from 43 to 44 Fijians captured and from 75 to 72 Filipinos after checking leave records with the mission.
Earlier in the day UN officials said they had received assurances that 44 peacekeepers detained by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights are safe and in good health.
"The United Nations has received assurances from credible sources that 44 peacekeepers from UNDOF who were taken from their position... are safe and in good health," said a statement from the spokesman.
"UNDOF has not yet had direct contact with the peacekeepers."
It added that UNDOF officials had been "informed that the intention of those holding the peacekeepers was to remove them from an active battlefield to a safe area for their own protection."
UNDOF has been in "regular contact" with 72 Filipino peacekeepers who were surrounded by the rebels on Thursday and who had refused to disarm.
They too "have not been harmed and are in good health," he added.
The UN revised an earlier figure from 43 to 44 Fijians and from 75 to 72 Filipinos after checking leave records with the mission.
UN officials have been negotiating to secure the release of the blue helmets with the armed groups and countries that may have influence over them.
The UN Security Council has demanded the "unconditional and immediate release" of the peacekeepers and urged countries with influence to help win their release.
There are currently 1,200 peacekeepers serving in UNDOF from the Philippines, Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands.
- Unrest, Conflicts & War
- Politics & Government
- Golan Heights