NAQOURA, Lebanon: The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon celebrated the International Day of Peace Wednesday, which the commander of the force described as having a special meaning for the U.N. peacekeepers and the Lebanese.
“For us in UNIFIL and for the Lebanese people, this day takes on a particular meaning as UNIFIL symbolizes over 33 years of joint efforts toward lasting peace and prosperity in southern Lebanon,” UNIFIL force commander Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta said.
The International Day of Peace was first established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1981 for “commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace within and among all nations and people.”
Twenty years later, the assembly declared that the Sept. 21 would be the permanent date dedicated to cease-fires and nonviolence; a day when tolerance, justice and human rights are promoted.
According to Asarta, south Lebanon is today at its most peaceful in recent history, following UNIFIL’s expansion and the deployment of the army to the area in 2006. But while acknowledging this achievement, Asarta asserted that the last few months have shown that challenges remain.
“I am encouraged by the assurances from the parties that they will continue working closely with UNIFIL to maintain calm in the area,” Asarta added at the ceremony held at UNIFIL’s headquarters in the border town of Naqoura.
He reiterated calls on both Lebanon and Israel to go “even further and make every effort to achieve a permanent cease-fire as called for in [the 2006] U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701.”
UNIFIL currently has more than 12,000 troops, including about 600 naval personnel (the first naval task force to take part in a U.N. peacekeeping mission) and about 1,000 civilian staff members serving in the south Lebanon mission.
Over the years, 309 UNIFIL military and civilian personnel have died while serving in south Lebanon, including 36 since August 2006.
“I also wish to pay a special tribute to all those who lost their lives in the service of peace,” Asarta said, adding: “Their sacrifice has not been in vain but shall encourage us to continue upholding the highest principles of the organization to which they dedicated their lives.”
Present at the ceremony were local authorities, religious leaders, representatives of the Lebanese Army and the international community.
Asarta reviewed an honor guard of peacekeepers representing the 36 national contingents in UNIFIL.
Asarta and South Litani commander Brig. Gen. Sadek Tlais, representing Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, laid wreaths at the UNIFIL cenotaph in memory of peacekeepers who lost their lives in the service of peace.
Asarta also awarded the United Nations peace medal to a number of military staff officers deployed in Naqoura as a token of appreciation for their contribution toward implementing UNIFIL’s mission and achieving sustainable peace in south Lebanon.
On the occasion, UNIFIL – in cooperation with the U.N. Development Program – also organized a festival of homemade traditional Lebanese food and handicrafts.
The festival is part of efforts to assist local agricultural cooperatives and associations promote their products as well as introduce Lebanese culture to members of UNIFIL.