SUVA (Republika / Pacific Scoop / Pacific Media Watch): Both the United Nations and Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama have now confirmed that the 45 captive Fijian peacekeepers have been released and are all unharmed.
At a press conference in Suva, Bainimarama said all 45 soldiers were safely back at the UN compound – healthy and in high spirits – and that they would soon be in contact with their loved ones back in Fiji.
“These 45 men are heroes. They kept their cool and showed restraint under the most extreme circumstances imaginable,” said Bainimarama.
“Fiji stands tall and proud in the world, and today, because of these great men, we stand even taller and prouder,” he added.
Bainimarama thanked Fijians “from all backgrounds and all faiths” who had shown support for the soldiers as well as the UN negotiators for their tireless efforts to secure the release.
“I know all Fijians join me in feeling a great sense of relief and joy as well as a deep appreciation of all those who had a hand in securing their safe release.”
Bainimarama left it to the commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF), Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga, to take questions from the press.
He said the soldiers would undergo a medical examination and those who wanted to would return to the mission in the Golan Heights, where they were captured on August 28.
He also repeated that their captors – the militant Islamist group Nusra Front – had released the soldiers without conditions.
According to Brig-Gen Tikoitoga, the leader of the battalion – Captain Savenaca Rabuka – had made a deal with the captors upon their surrender that they would not be harmed.
A deal which the Nusra Front had then kept “under Islamic law”, said Brig-Gen Tikoitoga.
The commander said Fiji had been working hard through diplomatic channels and that Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola had played an important role in that.
Ratu Inoke visited Qatar this week, a country understood to have helped apply pressure on the Nusra Front in the release of American journalist Peter Theo Curtis.
The spokesman of the United Nations General-Secretary released a statement last night welcoming the release of the peacekeepers.
“[The Secretary General] appreciates the efforts of all concerned to secure their safe release,” the statement said.
Mads Anneberg is an Inclusive Journalism Initiative (IJI) programme student at AUT University. He is reporting on the Asia-Pacific journalism course. He is on internship with Repúblika Magazine where he is a Fiji elections reporter.
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