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U.N. chief says Lebanon’s border must be controlled

A picture taken from the Lebanese border in the area of Wadi Khaled shows a Syrian Army camp on the Lebanese-Syrian border northern Lebanon on February 25, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID)

BEIRUT: U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has highlighted the urgency of controlling and demarcating the porous Syria-Lebanon border to suppress arms smuggling, as he urged Hezbollah to refrain from military activity in Syria.

In his semiannual report on the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which was issued Friday, Ban also pointed to the increased number of security incidents relating to the Syrian crisis, and urged political leaders to swiftly form a new government under Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, so that parliamentary elections can be held on time.

“The complex security situation along the Syrian-Lebanese border in the current circumstances, including credible reports of cross-border fighting and movement of arms and people, further underlines the urgency of demarcating the border,” Ban wrote in his report, acknowledging the bilateral responsibility for border delineation.

“I condemn the repeated incidents in which civilians were reported to have been killed, injured or put at risk on the Lebanese side of the border owing to the actions of [the Syrian authorities],” he said, calling on Damascus to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Resolution 1559, which was adopted in 2004, calls for Lebanon to exercise sovereignty over its territory, the withdrawal of foreign forces, the disarmament of militias as well as the demarcation of Lebanon’s borders with Syria.

Ban said several states had expressed concern over the illegal transfer of weapons across the 550-kilometer border.

“To address ongoing cross-border incidents and in the context of reports of arms smuggling, there remains an urgent need to improve the management and control of Lebanon’s land borders,” he said in the report.

No tangible progress toward the disbanding and disarming of Lebanese and other militias have taken place, Ban reported, referring to Hezbollah and Palestinian armed groups.

The U.N. chief voiced concern about the reported involvement of Lebanese parties in the Syrian conflict, “which is contrary to Lebanon’s policy of disassociation and poses very real risks to Lebanon’s security and stability.”

“I urge Hezbollah not to engage in any militant activity inside or outside of Lebanon, consistent with the requirements of the Taif Agreement and ... Resolution 1559,” Ban said in the report.

Ban urged the Lebanese government and security forces to take all necessary measures to prevent Hezbollah from acquiring weapons and building paramilitary capacities outside state authority.

“As Hezbollah maintains close ties with a number of regional states, in particular with the Islamic Republic of Iran, I call upon these states to encourage the transformation of the armed group into a solely political party and its disarmament,” it added.

He said he supported a “Lebanese-led cross-party political process” as the optimal way to disarm militias.

The report also discussed the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati and the designation of MP Tammam Salam to form a new Cabinet.

Ban encouraged all political leaders to engage with Salam positively and ensure the government is formed early to safeguard the stability of the country and the prospect of parliamentary polls in June.

He also urged them to reach agreement on key security appointments. Mikati has said his resignation was over rifts within his Cabinet to extend the term of former police chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi.

“Political polarization and lack of agreement on an elections law and security appointments have made Lebanon even more vulnerable and less able to address the challenges it now faces,” Ban said.

As for Israel’s repeated violations of Lebanese airspace, Ban called on the country to cease its overflights and withdraw from the northern part of Ghajar and an adjacent area of the Blue Line.

He noted that the airspace violations undermine “the credibility of Lebanese security services and generate anxiety among the civilian population. They also greatly increase the risk of unintended consequences in an already very tense region.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 20, 2013, on page 2.

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