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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

21 January 2004

The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) would celebrate

30 years of successful service on 31 May, Major-General Franciszek Gagor (Poland), the outgoing commander, said at a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon.

Giving an update of UNDOF’s activities, he said its role in monitoring the ceasefire between Israel and Syria, supervising the areas of separation and limitation, as well as the numbers of military weapons systems allowed by the ceasefire agreement, had been important for both host countries.

He said that the Force, with more than 1,000 peacekeepers, was adjusting to the changing situation in the Syrian Golan. The number of people in the area had grown from about 5,000 some 30 year ago to more than 50,000 today, while there had been an increase in roads and infrastructure. The UNDOF was in the middle of an 18-month-old modernization programme aimed at enhancing the Force’s mobility and visibility.

The basic thrust of the modernization process was to improve infrastructure and to integrate all United Nations elements in the Golan with a view to making UNDOF more suited to the new realities on the ground, he said. Better communication was an important part of improving the infrastructure, and included the computerization of its operational data system.

Describing United Nations peacekeeping as one of the noblest jobs for a soldier, he said he had previously commanded the United Nations Iraq Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM). He was replaced as UNDOF Commander by General B.N. Sharma (Nepal) on 16 January.

Asked about the identity of the 45,000 people who had come to the Golan in the last 30 years and where they had come from, Major-General Gagor replied that they were civilians, many of whom had been born in the Golan and moved to other parts of Syria. They had returned for historical, sentimental and emotional reasons to their place of birth.

Responding to the same correspondent’s question as to whether the Force was involved in the dispute over the Shaba’a farms, he said UNDOF was responsible for patrolling south of the “Blue Line”, while responsibility for the north lay with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The situation was quiet, he added.

In response to reported plans to expand settlements in the Golan, he said that issue was outside UNDOF’s mandate, which was to observe and report. That was a question for United Nations authorities dealing with political matters.

Responding to another question, he said that about 37 UNDOF peacekeepers had died in the last 30 years, most of them killed by landmines and some by traffic accidents.

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