Austria says no plans to withdraw from UN force in Golan

Austria said Wednesday it does not plan on withdrawing any forces from the UN peacekeeping mission on the Golan Heights, despite rising concern over troop safety in conflict-torn Syria.

"At the moment there are no plans" for any reduction in personnel, a defence ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

Austria's stance comes after the United Nations announced Monday it was removing about half of its 100 international staffers in Syria as attacks edged closer to UN buildings.

Austria currently has 375 troops on the Golan Heights, providing about a third of the approximately 1,000-strong UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) monitoring a ceasefire between Syria and Israel since 1974.

But concerns over the safety of the troops have increased following the abduction earlier this month of 21 Philippine peacekeepers by Syrian rebels who demanded a pullback by Syrian government forces in the area. They were later freed.

Shots were also fired at a UN observation post, prompting the United Nations to halt nearly all peacekeeper patrols in the Golan ceasefire zone, while further changes to the mission were apparently in the works.

Austria, Philippines and India are the only countries left in UNDOF, following the withdrawal in recent months of the Canadian, Japanese and Croatian contingents.

In November, four Austrian soldiers were wounded when their convoy was shot at near Damascus airport.

Following a Security Council meeting in New York Tuesday to discuss the mission, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said the UN was in contact with countries about sending replacements for Croatia.

Extra personnel carriers and other equipment have also been sent, he told reporters.