Minister says no plans for deployment of additional forces to Syria
THERE ARE currently no plans to send further Defence Forces personnel to assist the UN military observer mission in Syria.
Minister for Defence Alan Shatter said the six Irish monitors involved would remain in situ. He also said there were no plans to move Irish personnel serving with the UN mission in neighbouring Lebanon.
The mission there in support of the Lebanese government is to ensure the area of operations in southern Lebanon is not utilised for any hostile activities and to “resist attempts by forceful means to prevent it” carrying out its duties under the UN Security Council mandate.
Mr Shatter said he had been advised there was “no reported security spillover from the Syrian situation” into the UN area of operation in Lebanon.
He told Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan that while there had been a number of security incidents along the northern Lebanese-Syrian border, “this is a considerable distance from the Unifil area of operations”.
He said the situation in Syria was extremely volatile and the recent incidents involving UN monitors was a matter of continuing concern. None of the six Irish observers was involved in the incidents, including one in which three UN vehicles were damaged in an explosion near Hama and another where observers intervened to “de-escalate” a situation and reopen a highway blocked by government troops.
They hoped the plan to bring about a cessation of violence in Syria proved successful.
“Unfortunately, so far there is continuing violence both from the forces of President Assad and also from those engaged in opposition to him. Those forces are somewhat fragmented and appear to have various and differing allegiances in the context of the conflict still sadly taking place there.”
Fianna Fail defence spokesman Dara Calleary asked if the Minister was getting daily updates from the UN authorities on the security situation in Syria.
Mr Shatter said he received any updates required and was “closely monitoring the situation”. He said the mission was under ongoing review by the UN and the mandate for the 300 observers would expire on July 20th.
“Whether the mandate will be renewed remains to be seen and much depends on what happens with regard to the ongoing conflict and the likelihood of the implementation of the six-point plan.”
Ms O’Sullivan asked about the usefulness of having seven Irish personnel in Afghanistan “when we have two on the OSCE mission in Bosnia and there is a danger of escalating problems arising in Bosnia”.
Mr Shatter said that in parts of the world where very small numbers were deployed, “it is members of the Irish Defence Forces who are in important command positions with regard to missions involving troops from other countries”.
He said there were seven members of the Defence Forces in Afghanistan. “Their work is substantially in the administrative areas but our forces there have done important work with regard to improvised explosive devices.
“We have substantial expertise in this country in that area.”