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Lebanon News

Serra asks to move UNIFIL HQ after threats received

UNIFIL head Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra salutes during a hand-over ceremony at Bourj Qalawy, Monday, Sept. 24, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

BEIRUT: Commander of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra asked Prime Minister Najib Mikati in May to move the headquarters of the peacekeeping force to Baabda following threats to its current base in Bir Hassan.

Serra sent a letter to Mikati requesting the move to “mitigate its [the force’s] exposure to threat that has been assessed to exist at the ‘UNIFIL house’ in Bir Hassan, on the basis of intelligence provided to UNIFIL by the government of Lebanon.”

The Foreign Ministry will present the request to the Cabinet in its session Wednesday.

In his letter, Serra also emphasized that the location of the prospective headquarters would smooth coordination between the UNIFIL, the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon and the Lebanese Army.

“The location of the property in close proximity to the Lebanese Army HQ in Yarze as well as the offices of UNSCOL is ideal for purposes of facilitating closer cooperation between UNIFIL and both of these key partners, consistent with the recommendations of the recent strategic review of UNIFIL,” Serra added.

The review released last spring recommended better communication between U.N. bodies working with UNIFIL, greater involvement from the Lebanese government and increased military capacity for the Lebanese Army.In a letter sent to the Cabinet ahead of its meeting this week, the Foreign Ministry said the Department of Research and Guidance at the Council of Civil Service examined the issue and found that moving the headquarters and finding a new building is required under an agreement between Lebanon and the United Nations.

Serra said the property selected by UNIFIL was one of 18 that met the overall requirements and asked the government to pursue negotiations on its behalf under the 1995 agreement. The government is required to provide “without cost to UNIFIL and in agreement with the force commander” properties for headquarters and camps for the peacekeeping forces.

The annual rent of the current UNIFIL headquarters in Bir Hassan is $440,150, and the UNIFIL leadership estimates that the new headquarters in Baabda would cost $580,800 each year. The Finance Ministry said it was up to the full Cabinet to decide whether to approve the request.

Meanwhile Serra said Sunday that the Lebanon-Israel border is witnessing the calmest period in years due to close ties between the peacekeepers and the Army.

“Six years following the adoption of Resolution 1701, we are witnessing the calmest period southern Lebanon has seen in many years,” Serra said on the occasion of handing leadership of Italair from Lt. Col. Andrea Cercolani to Lt. Col. Giuliano Innecco.

“Much of this unprecedented peaceful period can be attributed to the ever closer relationship between UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces, and the kind support of the Lebanese people, for which I am deeply grateful,” he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 08, 2012, on page 1.

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