Austria starts Golan pullout from Wednesday

Austria starts Golan pullout from Wednesday
Tue Jun 11, 2013 22:12:58

Austrian troops in the UN monitoring force on the Golan Heights will begin pulling out on Wednesday, amid raising security concerns in the region with US intentions to arm extremists in Syria.

"Between 60 and 80 troops will return to Austria tomorrow afternoon," defense ministry spokesman Andreas Strobl told AFP Tuesday.

"This will be the first of several groups... we will gradually bring the soldiers back to Austria," he added.

The alpine state, which has been a cornerstone of the UN force monitoring a ceasefire between Syria and occupying regime of Israel since 1974, announced on Thursday that it would withdraw its peacekeepers because of deteriorating security on the strategic plateau.

Defense Minister Gerald Klug said the pullout of Austria's soldiers on the Golan would take between two and four weeks.

Some 380 are currently stationed there, according to the ministry.

Concerns raised high for Austria in Golan following escalating of violence in Syria which has been struggling to tame a massively Western-backed insurgency for more than two years.

Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said Tuesday that he wanted it to happen "as quickly as possible."

"We took this decision in the government and we are going to implement it," he said after a national security council meeting on Monday.

The Austrian pullout will leave the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), headquartered in Quneitra, with just 341 troops from the Philippines and 193 from India.

Japan and Croatia have also withdrawn in recent months as battles between Syrian government and opposition forces spread into the ceasefire zone.

President Vladimir Putin said last week that Russian troops could replace the Austrians, but under the terms of the 1974 accord that created the force, members of the UN Security Council are not allowed to take part.

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