Thursday, May 23, 2013

Austrian Chancellor: Lifting Arms Ban on Opposition in Syria Threatens UNDOF, Escalates Tension


VIENNA, (SANA) –  Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann reiterated on Wednesday his country's rejection of lifting the arms ban on the opposition in Syria, warning of the dangers of this issue on the Austrian soldiers at the UN Disengagement Observer Forces (UNDOF) in the occupied Syrian Golan.

After his meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels, Faymann stressed Austria's rejection of all forms of lifting the ban even if it was partial, adding that "If some countries insist on it, we will refer the issue of our forces in the Golan to the government for discussion."

He stressed that offering weapons to the Syrian opposition would escalate tension and it will not give any valuable solutions to the standing crisis in Syria.

Earlier, Austria's Defense Minister, Gerald Klug said that Austria might pull out its troops operating within the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force in Golan (UNDOF) if the European Union decides to arm the Syrian opposition.

Reuters quoted the defense minister as saying, one day before EU leaders' meeting in Brussels to discuss arming the opposition, that ''lifting the arms embargo will make the Austrian troops lose their neutrality in the ongoing conflict, as peacekeeping forces came under fire and some were held hostage.''

"My view is that if the arms embargo were not extended, then the impartiality of the peace mission could no longer be maintained," Klug said.

He saw that the measure, if implemented, will heighten tension surrounding the mission, and will definitely bring Austria to a new assessment of the situation.

"I cannot of course prejudge the discussions," he said of the negotiations within the European Union. "But without doubt there are several options in the political discussion, and withdrawal is one of these options." He said that Austrian troops have beefed up their armor and are ready to continue their mission in Golan, adding "Given the quantitative importance that Austrian soldiers have on the Golan I would have serious doubts that the mission could be maintained."

"To me the safety of Austrian troops is the most important thing in this context," he said. "But I also say that Austria has clearly shown in years past that it is a reliable provider of troops and Austria wants to remain a reliable provider of troops," Reuters quoted Klug as saying.

Klug's comments come a day after the Austrian foreign minister said that lifting the EU arms embargo will present the Austrian troops in Golan with many difficulties.

Klug's comment underscore Austria's opposition to efforts led by France and Britain to lift the EU arms ban and provide the terrorist groups in Syria with weapons which, Austria says, would inflame fighting and squander chances for talks to solve crisis.

Austria has 380 soldiers operating within UNDOF. If they were to depart four decades after their mission began in the wake of October Liberation War in 1973, it will leave a huge vacuum in the 1000-strong UN force, especially after Japan and Croatia pulled out troops.

M. Ismael/F.Allafi

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