|File - An Israeli army Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) maneuvers during a military exercise near the northern border with Syria on June 25, 2013 in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)|
Austria, previously the top contributor, will pull out its 377 soldiers by the end of this month amid fears of escalating violence against peacekeepers, leaving a 530-strong force from the Philippines and India.
“This mandate of UNDOF in the Golan Heights is very important for maintaining peace and security in the region, not only in that area,” Ban told reporters in Geneva.
He added that the withdrawal of Austrian forces was having an impact, “and we have been seriously concerned,” Ban said.
UNDOF and the related 76-member U.N. Truce Supervision Organization monitor a cease-fire accord signed a year after the 1973 war – a conflict that saw Israel take over a slice of the strategic Golan Heights from Syria.
Ban said he was in talks with several European countries, including Sweden, in search for new troops.
“They are in the process of discussing among themselves, and within their governments,” he said.
He noted that, beyond Europe, Fiji has already stepped in to help.
The Pacific nation, which traditionally punches above its weight in U.N. peacekeeping operations, has started deploying troops to get UNDOF’s number back above 900.
But the U.N. peacekeeping department would prefer the force’s total deployment to be around 1,250.
Ban said he was hopeful the U.N. would find troops to “fill the gap,” and expressed confidence that “we are on the way.”
The U.N. leader said several potential contributors had already pledged to take part in a peacekeeping force in Mali, set up after African and French troops took on Islamist insurgents there earlier this year.
“Some of those countries have committed already to provide troops to Mali so, practically speaking, it may be the case that they have some constraints in providing further troops,” Ban said.
The U.N. Security Council last week urged Syrian government troops and rebels to stay out of the Golan, amid concerns over violent incidents in what had been a relatively calm zone until the Syria conflict erupted in March 2011.