Lebanon News

Ban urges dialogue in Beirut, frets rearmament

BEIRUT: UN chief Ban Ki-moon  Wednesday warned all Lebanese groups against rearming and conducting  military training, calling for the presidential election to go ahead to put an end to the almost one-year-old political standoff. In a report issued to the United Nations Security Council, the sixth of its kind, the secretary general addressed the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559 and current political realities in Lebanon.

Over the course of the past six months, Lebanon has continued to experience "political crisis and instability" which have "constituted significant obstacles to the further implementation" of 1559, the report found.

The emergence of Fatah al-Islam earlier this year, as well as reports of Hizbullah rebuilding its arsenal following the summer 2006 war with Israel indicated that 1559 "remains to be fully implemented." The report, however, applauded the efforts of the army and the government.

Turning to the political deadlock, the report said that "the election of a new president is now essential ... The position must be filled once the prolonged term of the present incumbent comes to an end, lest the regular functioning of the political institutions remain impeded."

"Lebanese political leaders must aim for unity and conciliation," the report asserted. "It is imperative that political dialogue resume." A new president should be elected in a "free and fair electoral process" and "without any foreign interference of influence" and there "must not be a political vacuum at the level of the presidency, nor two rival governments."

The report said that despite attempts to resolve the political deadlock, there continues to be "widespread reports and allegations that parties and groups on all sides of the political spectrum are preparing for the possible failure of such negotiations, with armaments and military training reported widely."

"It is disconcerting to observe that most political parties in Lebanon are apparently preparing for the possible deterioration of the situation," Ban said. "I repeat my urgent call on all Lebanese parties to immediately halt all efforts to rearm and engage in weapons training and to instead return to dialogue and conciliation as the only viable method of settling issues and resolving the ongoing political crisis."

Despite the political turmoil, the government has "continued to make progress to extend its authority over all the Lebanese territory, disarm and disband militias" while also asserting its "sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence," the report said.

Palestinian refugee camps continue to pose a serious challenge to stability and security. Tensions between some Lebanese and Palestinians have only increased since the fighting began at Nahr al-Bared.

"In addition to Fatah al-Islam," the report said, "several Al-Qaeda-affiliated or inspired groups appear to have established themselves inside the camps." The report added that the situation within the camps remains "precarious" and occasional armed clashes have broken out.

The report also cited a letter from Prime Minister Fouad Siniora dated October 8, using information obtained from detained Fatah al-Islam members, which indicated that "many Fatah al-Islam members were "genuine" jihadists who thought they were being trained to fight in Iraq." According to the letter, "most non-Lebanese members entered illegally by land from Syria."

In addition to Fatah al-Islam, other Palestinian militias like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and Fatah al-Intifada have remained active inside Lebanon and have reinforced positions inside Lebanon, allegedly with assistance from Syria, the report said. Damascus has repeatedly denied such charges.

Despite defeating Fatah al-Islam, the government faces serious challenges from the "continued existence and strength of other Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias," the report said.

The report also addressed Hizbullah's eventual disarmament and its metamorphosis into a purely political party, consistent with requirements of the Taif Agreement, as another component of the "full restoration of Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence."

The report also said information from the Israeli government as well as other member states indicates that Hizbullah has "rebuilt and increased its military capacity."

Original copies of the report sent to the press included additional information in Section 55, later removed from subsequent press copies. The original ending to Section 55 stated that "UNIFIL, in collaboration with the Lebanese Armed Forces, has immediately investigated any claims of alleged violations of Resolution 1701 within its area of operations if specific information and evidence is received. However, they have not found evidence of new Hizbullah military activity south of the Litani River."

When asked about this discrepancy by The Daily Star, a spokesman for Ban said: "I cannot comment on the amendment because the final version of the report has yet to be presented to the UN Security Council."

During the period that the report covered (May - October) it noted that there have been a "significant number of bomb attacks and assassinations," the latest of which was the slaying on MP Antoine Ghanem in September.





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