Prime minister Rafik Hariri vowed yesterday to complete the return of the displaced to their native homes, despite his public feud with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, the minister in charge of that portfolio.
Hariri spoke at a graduation ceremony in Sidon after his office announced that today’s cabinet session had been cancelled. Officially, a lack of items on the agenda was cited as the reason for the cancellation.
But government sources attributed the last-minute decision to the Hariri-Jumblatt feud, which could have fuelled tension among ministers had the meeting taken place.
Minister of emigrant affairs Talal Arslan, Jumblatt’s main political foe in the Druze community, decried the “mismanagement” of funds allocated for the displaced that has raged for seven years.
Speaking after meeting Hariri last night, Arslan said the return of the displaced “should be removed from the political bazaar”, and insisted that although LL800bn had been spent on the process, only 20 per cent of the displaced had returned.
Even this figure is inaccurate, Arslan said. “Most of those who are considered as returnees have in fact returned for weekends during the summer holidays. This can hardly be described as a return home or an expression of coexistence.”
Arslan also argued that the prime minister had dealt diplomatically with the issue to avoid raising political sensitivity. “But from now on the premier is determined to block random payments which had wasted the funds both at the ministry of the displaced and the Central Fund for the Displaced.”
Stressing his intention to move on with the process, irrespective of Jumblatt’s grievances, Hariri said last night: “The policy on concluding the return of the displaced is consistent and final. We have been entrusted with the process and are determined to finish it.”
In a speech to graduates at the Makassed school in Sidon, Hariri declared: “False charges and political deals will not stop us. Every displaced person will get what he deserves until not a single one remains away from his home.”
Hariri was speaking after a scathing attack by Jumblatt and others during a conference dedicated to the issue over the weekend.
Speakers at the meeting charged Hariri with holding back funds desperately needed for the return process, which was launched in 1991.
He also dismissed accusations that funds channelled into reconstruction could be better used for solving matters such as that of the displaced. “We will not give up the process of reconstructing the country because we believe the process is for the future of the young and the future of Lebanon,” he said.
“Sectarianism that prevailed during the war is over, and we will not allow anyone to resort to wartime behaviour to serve his own interests at the expense of the government’s. This is my pledge to you and to all Lebanese,” he added.
l A conference on the displaced held over the weekend in Beiteddine was an indication that Lebanon had made a choice in favour of peace and reconciliation, declared a number of political parties.