Ban Ki-moon at UNIFIL headquarters in south Lebanon
Photo: AFP
UNIFIL troops in Lebanon (archive photo)
Photo: AFP

UN chief says arms smuggling into Lebanon worrying

Ban Ki-moon briefed by UNIFIL commanders near border with Israel, says arms smuggling from Syria will destabilize Lebanon

The leading Lebanese daily An-Nahar reported Saturday that Ban told the Lebanese security chiefs that Israel had provided him with “evidence and pictures” of trucks crossing from Syria to Lebanon and unloading weapons.


On Saturday, Ban again voiced concern about the reported arms smuggling.


“There are intelligence reports that arms are smuggled. I am concerned by that kind of arms smuggling which will destabilize the situation in Lebanon,” he said.


Ban urged full compliance with the UN Resolution and expressed the need for “an enhanced monitoring capacity of the Lebanese armed forces to ensure that there will be no such smuggling activity.”


Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, who is opposed to Hizbullah and Syrian influence, said the Lebanese government was trying to improve its monitoring capabilities but stressed that “not one single case of arms smuggling across the border” with Syria has been recorded.


Ban also met Friday with rival Lebanese leaders, including a Hizbullah legislator, who are locked in a bitter political dispute that has paralyzed the country and threatens to tear it apart.


He urged them to engage in dialogue as the only way to end the political crisis and to approve an international court to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, an issue stalled in Parliament amid sharp divisions between the government and the opposition, which includes members of Hizbullah.


The UN chief on Saturday visited with peacekeepers in southern Lebanon near the Israeli border to thank the men and women from 30 countries who are monitoring a cease-fire after a devastating war last summer between Israel and Hizbullah guerrillas.


'UNIFIL members have to be continuously vigilant'

Ban Ki-moon flew by helicopter from Beirut to the headquarters of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon at the Lebanese coastal border town of Naqoura, where he was briefed by senior commanders. He later flew by helicopter over the Blue Line, the UN-demarcated border between Lebanon and Israel, and made stops at several of the force’s bases before departing for New York, ending a Mideast tour.


“This is an occasion for me to express my gratitude in person to all of you,” he said during a ceremony at the headquarters. He also paid homage to those who “paid the ultimate sacrifice” and those who were injured during the 29-year-old mission in southern Lebanon.


Ban said UN Peace missions around the world faced escalating expectations and challenges, adding that he had proposed to the UN General Assembly the creation of a new department of peace and support to “strengthen the capacity of the organization to manage and sustain peace operations.”


UNIFIL first deployed in Lebanon in 1978 after an Israeli invasion. But the force has not been able to stop guerrilla attacks on Israel or subsequent Israeli incursions into Lebanon, such as Israel’s 1982 invasion.


The fighting between Hizbullah and Israel last summer, which killed more than 1,000 in Lebanon and 159 Israelis, was halted by a UN-brokered cease-fire that called for reinforcing UNIFIL to help Lebanese troops patrol the region. The reinforced UNIFIL, now numbering close to 13,000 from 30 countries, began taking up positions in August. It currently patrols a weapons-free zone alongside some 15,000 Lebanese troops.


In response to a reporter’s question about whether UNIFIL is under threat in southern Lebanon, Ban replied, “I was briefed that there are still some elemental challenges and some potential threats. This is why UNIFIL members have to be continuously vigilant, but this time I was told that the situation is still calm.”


The UN Chief arrived Thursday in Beirut from Saudi Arabia, where he attended an Arab summit. His Mideast tour has already taken him to Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories.  


פרסום ראשון: 03.31.07, 17:28
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