UN Lebanon mission contains regional tension, outgoing force commander says

19 February 2004

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is serving to contain violence in the volatile region, the outgoing head of the operation said today.

Major-General Lalit Mohan Tewari of India, who just completed a two-and-a-half year assignment, said the period was one marked by escalating friction. "At the moment, I think the tension is going up, but that is my perception; I do not want to prejudge what is going to happen," he told reporters at a press briefing in New York.

Amid this difficult operating scenario, UNIFIL maintained "real-time open channels of communication" with the parties, which served to diffuse tension.

"We cannot stop the events from taking place but we prevent escalation by talking to all the parties," he said.

Mr. Tewari added that neither side wanted a flare-up of violence. "The Government of Lebanon is not keen to escalate the situation at all," he said. "The Israeli Defence Forces are not keen to escalate the situation beyond a point."

"To that extent I think it's a very encouraging trend which I saw," he added.

Working in "the toughest neighbourhood in the world," the outgoing chief said he had lost half of his hair since joining UNIFIL, while the other half had gone grey. "We've got to be impartial in this game and with impartiality comes a very heavy price."

"That's the job of the United Nations," he said.