UN officials discuss peacekeeping mission with Lebanese PM

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Top United Nations officials in Lebanon today discussed with Prime Minister Najib Mikati the activities of the UN peacekeeping force, whose mandate was extended for another 12 months last week.

“The UN Security Council’s unanimous decision to extend the mandate without any changes is a testament to the right course we are following in cooperation and coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF),” UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Head of Mission and Force Commander Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas said following his meeting.

“Our ongoing strategic dialogue with the LAF must be accelerated in order to realistically correlate our respective capacities and responsibilities on the ground. At the same time, as also emphasized by the Security Council, it is very important that the LAF gets all the assistance it needs from the international community in order to perform the tasks under resolution 1701.”

That Security Council resolution ended the month-long fighting between Israel and the Lebanese group Hizbollah in 2006, expanded the strength and mandate of the 12,000-strong force which was first deployed in 1978 after earlier fighting, and called for disarming all militias and armed groups outside the national army, including Hizbollah.

The UN has repeatedly condemned violations of Lebanese sovereignty by Israeli over-flights as a violation of the resolution, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called Hizbollah’s refusal to disarm a serious challenge to the State’s ability to exercise full sovereignty and control over its territory.

“By restoring and maintaining stability in southern Lebanon in cooperation with LAF, UNIFIL provides a window of opportunity for a permanent ceasefire and long-term solution to the conflict as envisioned in resolution 1701,” Maj.-Gen. Asarta said. “Our ongoing strategic dialogue with the LAF must be accelerated in order to realistically correlate our respective capacities and responsibilities on the ground.”

He voiced appreciation at the condemnation by the Lebanese leaders of attacks against UNIFIL convoys in recent months and the steps taken to ensure security of UNIFIL peacekeepers, urging the authorities to make every effort to bring the culprits to justice and prevent further attacks. He also later briefed Speaker Nabih Berri of the national Parliament.

In a separate meeting with Mr. Mikati, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams discussed a number of meetings on Middle East issues at UN Headquarters in New York later this month, including: Palestine; Libya, where pro-democracy rebels have ousted Muammar al-Qadhafi’s regime; and Syria, where the UN has called on President Bashar al-Assad to end the excessive use of force against anti-Government protesters and begin reforms.

“I emphasized the need to safeguard Lebanon’s stability and security, particularly at a time of dramatic changes throughout the Arab world and part of that stability is guaranteed by Security Council resolution 1701,” he told reporters.

“I am very pleased that the Prime Minister and his Government remain so strongly committed to Security Council resolution 1701, which I believe has brought stability to Lebanon along the Blue Line [separating Lebanon and Israel] for more than five years now since the tragedy of the 2006 war.”