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Lebanon: A year after end of war, UN envoy stresses need to heal political rifts

Lebanon: A year after end of war, UN envoy stresses need to heal political rifts

Lebanon’s people cannot afford the “fractious political atmosphere” that has emerged during the past year to continue, a senior United Nations official warned today, urging the country’s leaders to prove that they can overcome their differences and serve national interests rather than the agenda of the parties.

Geir Pedersen, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, used the first anniversary of the end of the war between Hizbollah and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to caution that the country’s future economic and social progress was being jeopardized by the political deadlock.

In a statement which appeared in several Lebanese papers, Mr. Pedersen said “this stalemate has given rise to new dangers. The atmosphere of political division quickly gave way to clashes in January of this year, which turned deadly. More worrying has been the resurgence of sectarian language in many circles.”

A new president will have to be elected in the coming weeks and Mr. Pedersen said “this event represents an opportunity” for the leaders of the country’s ruling majority and opposition to rise above their recent disputes.

“It is high time that discussions focus on programmes and ideas that address issues of national interest, rather than narrow party agendas,” he said.

The Special Coordinator stressed that the responsibility lies with the Lebanese themselves to sort out their differences and determine the path ahead.

“There are a number of initiatives to assist the various parties to come together in dialogue and reach mutually acceptable solutions, both on the presidency and the composition of the government.

“These efforts will continue, and will be supported to the utmost extent possible by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. In all cases, the emergence of two competing governments must be avoided.”

Mr. Pedersen also said that Lebanon has made positive but incomplete progress in its reconstruction since the war ended, and that much more work is needed, as well as to ensure a sustainable ceasefire and not just a cessation of hostilities.

“Israeli overflights into Lebanese territory will have to stop and Lebanese borders properly secured to prevent arms smuggling. The issue of the Shaba’a Farms is under close study and solid progress has been made towards a provisional determination of the geographical extent of the area.”

“Similarly, negotiations to bring about the release of the two Israeli soldiers [captured just before the war began], as well as of Lebanese prisoners, are ongoing, and will hopefully bear results in the near future.”

Mr. Pedersen’s comments were echoed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who told reporters today at UN Headquarters that it was vital to restore Lebanon’s political and social stability so that its people could enjoy greater economic prosperity.

He called on Lebanese political leaders to ensure that their dialogue with others is as inclusive as possible to promote reconciliation between the country’s different groups.