With tensions high, Annan calls for six-month extension of UN Interim Force in Lebanon
With tensions rising along the Israeli-Lebanese withdrawal line in recent months, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recommended extending the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in the area through January 2003, according to a report released today in New York.
In his report to the Security Council on the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the Secretary-General points out that the violence spiked in April, “surpassing any activity seen since Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000.” While the situation stabilized the following month, the events of April, which coincided with escalations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, “underscored the fragility of the situation,” he notes.
The report describes attacks by Hizbollah across the so-called Blue Line, which marks the withdrawal, and the Lebanese Government’s unwillingness to deploy there, in contravention to Security Council decisions. “Violations of the Blue Line, whether they entail a physical crossing of the line or skirting it, cannot be justified,” Mr. Annan says.
The report also notes that “unjustified Israeli incursions into sovereign Lebanese airspace continued on an almost daily basis throughout most of the reporting period, often penetrating deep into Lebanon and frequently generating sonic booms.”
The Secretary-General voices continuing concern about restrictions on the Force’s movement. “UNIFIL must be able to carry out its mandate and fulfil its tasks of patrolling, observing, reporting and liaising with the parties unhindered by armed elements,” he asserts. Calling attacks against the UN “unacceptable,” he calls on the Government of Lebanon to ensure UNIFIL’s full freedom of movement.
“I have frequently expressed my concern regarding developments in southern Lebanon and called for restraint from both sides,” Mr. Annan writes. “The critical need in this highly turbulent time is for all parties concerned to respect the Blue Line, as repeatedly called for by the Security Council, to cease all violations of this line and to refrain from any action that could serve to destabilize the situation.”
In addition to underscoring the fragile security conditions in the area, the Secretary-General draws attention to UNIFIL’s $106.5 million budget shortfall – a figure representing money owed to the nations contributing troops to the Force. “I appeal to all Member States to pay their assessments promptly and in full and to clear all remaining arrears,” he says, voicing gratitude to the contributing countries “for their understanding and patience.”