Philippines to withdraw hundreds of peacekeepers from Liberia, Syria

The Philippines will pull out more than 400 Filipino peacekeepers from Liberia and Syria, a defense spokesman said Saturday, citing the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa and the volatile security environment in the Middle East.

"In light of the rising health risk posed by the outbreak of Ebola virus in Africa, the Filipino troops deployed to the U.N. Mission in Liberia will be repatriated as soon as possible," National Defense Department spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said.

He noted that the Manila has been sending peacekeepers to Liberia since 2003 and there are currently around 115 of them there.

Citing "increased security risks" in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, Galvez said the 331 Filipino troops currently monitoring the ceasefire between Israel and Syria will be brought home, without being replaced, when their tour of duty in the Golan Heights ends in October.

He pointed out that the Philippines, which has been a major contributor to the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights since 2009, has maintained its participation despite the withdrawal of other troop-contributing countries as the conflict in Syria intensified last year.

"The Philippines prioritizes the safety and security of its troops," the spokesman said.

In March last year, 21 Filipino peacekeepers were abducted by Syrian rebels, followed by four more two months later. They were all later released.

Galvez said that the despite the pullouts, the Philippines remains committed to U.N. peacekeeping missions in other places such as Haiti, where 156 Filipino peacekeepers, are rendering service, as well as in Kashmir, Sudan, East Timor and Ivory Coast.