BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati urged France Thursday to maintain its international peacekeeping numbers in Lebanon, following a Security Council decision to extend the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon for another year.
Mikati, in a letter to French President Nicholas Sarkozy, urged Paris not to downsize what is one of UNIFIL’s largest contingents following an attack in July on French troops in south Lebanon.
“I assure you, Mr. President, of my determination and the government’s [determination] to prevent further recurrences of these attacks,” Mikati said. “For this reason I repeat our strong desire for the French forces to remain within the international forces working in Lebanon.”
The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend UNIFIL’s mandate to Aug. 31, 2012, while it condemned “in the strongest terms” the attack against French troops and a similar attack against the force’s Spanish contingent in May. In each incident, a roadside bomb detonated as a UNIFIL convoy passed close to the southern port city of Sidon. A total of 11 peacekeepers were injured in the blasts.
The attacks were the most serious attempt on the lives of peacekeepers for several years and prompted Italy – UNIFIL’s largest contributor – to announce the withdrawal of 700 of its troops from south Lebanon. Mikati said he had personally reassured international forces that Lebanon would work to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which UNIFIL is mandated to oversee.
“Lebanon is proud to be among the countries which established the United Nations’ law, therefore, we renew our respect to international law and commit to implementing international resolutions, especially Resolution 1701,” the premier said in his letter.
He also thanked France for its support to peacekeeping in Lebanon.
“Lebanon has always held the message of peace and the Lebanese feel deep sorrow when one soldier of the international forces is hurt, since they hold a similar message on Lebanese soil,” he added.
The Security Council, which Lebanon is heading throughout September, also condemned incidents involved exchanges of fire across the U.N.-demarcated Blue Line, the boundary of Israeli military withdrawal from south Lebanon.
On May 15, Israel opened fire on pro-Palestinian protesters during a demonstration at Maroun al-Ras to mark the anniversary of Nakba Day. Ten protesters were killed and dozens more injured before the Lebanese Army intervened.
On Aug. 1, Lebanese and Israeli troops exchanged fire across the Blue Line, the most severe altercation involving the two sides since two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist, as well as a senior Israeli officer were killed during a gunfight close to the border village of Adaysseh last year.
Speaking in reaction to his force’s mandate extension, UNIFIL Commander Major General Alberto Asarta Cuevas said his force was unbowed in the face of the recent attacks on French and Spanish peacekeepers.
“The terrorist attacks against UNIFIL on May 27 and July 26 have brought to the fore the paramount importance of ensuring the safety and security of UNIFIL. The Security Council has urged all parties to abide scrupulously by their obligation to respect the safety of UNIFIL and other U.N. personnel and to ensure that the freedom of movement of UNIFIL is fully respected and unimpeded,” Cuevas said in a statement released by the force.
UNIFIL currently has more than 12,000 uniformed personnel from 36 countries based south of the Litani River.