Austria links UN peacekeepers to Syria arms ban

AP News
Posted: May 24, 2013 8:53 AM
Austria links UN peacekeepers to Syria arms ban

VIENNA (AP) — Austria said Friday that it may rethink its U.N. peacekeeping role in the Golan Heights, if the European Union doesn't extend its arms embargo to Syria.

Austria's 377 soldiers make up the largest contingent of the approximately 900 U.N. peacekeepers posted to the Golan Heights separating Syria and Israel.

Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger told The Associated Press on Friday that they could be targeted by Syrian government forces, if EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday decide to allow members to ship arms to rebels trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"We believe there are enough weapons in Syria," Spindelegger said. "We support a cease-fire, not weapons deliveries."

France and Britain are the main EU proponents of arming the rebels. About half a dozen smaller countries, including Austria, oppose that within the 27-nation bloc, with the rest somewhere in between.

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Much of Austria's opposition is based on concerns for it peacekeepers, with officials arguing that Syria would no longer view them as neutral because of the country's EU membership, if other EU nations started delivering weapons to anti-Assad forces.

Lifting the EU embargo "would give us real problems on the Golan Heights," said Spindelegger.