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Update of Austria's Probe of UN Golan Troops Over Deaths of Syrians

Published: May 4, 2018; 13:02 · (Vindobona)

According to media reports, the video, which shows the fatal incident in September 2012 on the Golan Heights, when Austrian blue helmet soldiers sent 9 Syrian security forces into a deadly ambush, was used as a "training film". In parallel with these reports, the former Defence Minister points out that the start of the Syrian Civil War has removed the basis of the UN mandate, which should focus exclusively on monitoring the ceasefire between Syria and Israel.

UN peacekeepers monitor the Golan Heights at Mount Bental (جبل بنطل , جبل الغرام‎ / הר בנטל‎) a dormant volcano (1,171 Meters) in the North-Eastern part of the Golan Heights / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / Benjamín Núñez González [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Did the Austrian Armed Forces use the video as a training film?

According to a report in the "Kleine Zeitung", the video was used for educational purposes. However, the Ministry of Defence rejects this report. A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense explained that this was "not an official" training video. Further surveys would be carried out by the appointed commission of inquiry. In addition, the spokesman announced a statement by the ministry for a later date.

The civil war removed the basis for the UN mandate

According to a report in the daily Der Standard, ex-Defense Minister Gerald Klug cannot or does not want to evaluate from his desk how he would have acted in view of the ambush on the Golan. Rather, he would take his hat off to all soldiers signing up for foreign missions.

Even the mandate to separate Israel and Syria only worked at the time as long as both sides wanted it to work. At that time, both sides were interested in it, which is why the mission was successful. One partner, the Syrian government, lost control of its territory as a result of the civil war.

Klug still considers the decision to withdraw Austrian UN soldiers to be correct and indispensable.

On 6 June 2013 Austria announced that Austria would withdraw its troops from the UNDOF mission. This decision was made after Syrian rebels had attacked and temporarily captured the border crossing at Quneitra. A Filipino peacekeeper was wounded in the fighting.

Former General Günther Greindl explained that if the Commission of Inquiry carefully analysed the conditions under which the mission was conducted, it would have to conclude that there was no misconduct on the part of the soldiers.

He cannot imagine that the guards should have cleaned themselves up and said that they should have made a decision in a superior moral judgment, which is against the conditions of the mandate and the state of command.

Similar case from Serbia: In June 2017, Dutch UN troops were partly responsible for the deaths of Bosnian Muslim men in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. A Dutch court ruled that the peacekeepers had unlawfully handed over 350 of them to Bosnian Serb troops.