Brother appeals for release of Philippine captives

The brother of one of the 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers seized by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights called on Friday for their release, saying the group had been working for peace in Syria.

The appeal came as a hoped-for quick release of the captives did not eventuate, with the Philippine government saying that the hostage takers were standing firm on their demand that Syrian troops be pulled back first.

Xy-son Meneses said in Manila that he was concerned for his brother, Captain Xy-rus Meneses, who appeared in an Internet video with the other captured Filipinos shortly after their abduction on Wednesday.

"If this reaches the Syrian rebels, I want to tell them the purpose of our contingent in Syria is for peacekeeping," said Xy-son Meneses, who is also a soldier, in a nationally televised press conference at military headquarters.

"They are not there to cause trouble but to help maintain peace in Syria so I ask if they can release them."

Meneses, a second lieutenant, said his family was proud when his brother, a graduate of the elite Philippine Military Academy, was chosen to be part of the UN peacekeeping contingent last year.

Although they were worried about his older brother's fate, Meneses said he had faith the Philippine government was doing its best to free him and the others.

Foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said earlier that the 21 Filipinos were originally expected to be released on Friday morning but the Syrian rebels refused to compromise on their key demand.

"The demand of the rebels for the re-positioning of Syrian forces in the area of Jamla is still outstanding so this is still being worked out," he said.

The rebels want the Syrian troops to move 20 kilometres (12 miles) back from Jamla, an area in the Golan's ceasefire zone, before they will free the Filipinos, he said.

"That is the main demand of the rebel group," he told AFP, adding he did not know of any other conditions.

The Philippine government did not know when they would be freed, Hernandez said.

"We are trying to intensify our negotiations with the rebel groups," he said.

However he said the Filipino peacekeepers were still being treated well.

"(They are) being treated as guests and are unharmed," Hernandez said.

The 21 Filipino troops, members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) observing a 1974 ceasefire between Syria and Israel, were abducted on Wednesday by the rebels.

A UN official, speaking on condition of anonymity, previously said the UNDOF mission was "negotiating with the armed group and the Syrian authorities" to obtain a release.