SUVA, Fiji (AP) – First came the emotional calls home and then the celebrations Friday as 45 Fijian peacekeepers held captive for two weeks by Syrian militants made it to safety.
Fiji’s military chief described how his troops were released at about midnight Fijian time, and were immediately given access to telephones to call their loved ones.
By 2am every affected family in Fiji knew the good news, Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitoga told reporters.
Then, he said, came the grog ceremony. In Fiji, at least, that would mean drinking a potent local brew, kava, although the chief didn’t say if that was the case.
“We could see the singing and drinking in the background, all the laughter, so they are all back to Fijian moods,” said Tikoitoga, describing a video call he had with his troops.
“And so I assume that all is well with them, at least emotionally.”
The Fijians had been held captive by the al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front since August 28.
They were part of a 1,200-strong UN force that had been stationed in the Golan Heights, the disputed buffer zone between Syria and Israel.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said the Fijians were released at the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing point, which marks the area between Syrian-controlled territory and the Israeli part of the Golan Heights.
Fiji’s prime minister hailed the troops as “heroes”.
“They kept their cool and showed restraint under the most extreme circumstances imaginable,” Voreqe Bainimarama said.