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UN voices concern over presence of armed groups in Golan Heights


08:40, March 28, 2013

UNITED NATIONS, March 27 (Xinhua) -- UN Security Council on Wednesday expressed "grave concern" about the presence of armed groups from the Syrian conflict inside the area of separation in the Golan Heights.

"The members of the Security Council expressed their deep concern at the risk that all military activities in the area of separation conducted by any actor pose to the long-held ceasefire and the local population," said Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia, who holds the council's presidency this month, from a prepared statement to the press here.

The 15-member council underscored the increased risk the situation poses to UN personnel on the ground, as highlighted in particular by the detention of the 21 military personnel of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), the firing directed at United Nations personnel and facilities, and the carjacking of United Nations vehicles, Churkin said.

Armed elements of the Syrian opposition on March 6 detained a group of peacekeepers who are part of the UNDOF, tasked with monitoring the 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel after their 1973 war.

UN is planning to reduce the number of peacekeepers in the Golan Heights in response to the presence of armed groups, said Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous Tuesday, after briefing the council about the risks and operational challenges the UNDOF now faces.

"The members of the Security Council called on all parties, including armed elements of the Syrian opposition, to respect UNDOF's freedom of movement and the safety and security of its personnel, while recalling that the primary responsibility for safety and security on the Bravo side rests with the Syrian government," Churkin said.

The Council called on the government of the Syrian Arab Republic to respect UNDOF's privileges and immunities and to ensure the security of and unhindered and immediate access for UN personnel carrying out their mandate, he added.

UNDOF, which was created by the UN Security Council in May 1974 after fighting between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights region, is mandated to keep a ceasefire between the parties, and monitor the implementation of a Disengagement of Forces Agreement signed by both sides that calls for an area of separation and areas of limited forces and armaments between the two parties. The Security Council in December extended the mission's mandate for another six months until June 30.

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