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Presence of armed groups threatens southern Lebanon’s stability – UN

Presence of armed groups threatens southern Lebanon’s stability – UN

Southern Lebanon has witnessed the longest period of relative stability in many years as the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hizbollah following their 2006 war continues to hold, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated, while voicing concern about the presence of armed groups and record levels of Israeli overflights in the area.

The presence of “unidentified armed elements” in the area of operations of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), along with restrictions on the Force’s movement and the monitoring of its operations, are a source of serious concern, Mr. Ban writes in his latest report on Security Council resolution 1701. “They raise tensions and cannot but cast doubt on the motives of those involved.”

Resolution 1701 helped end the fighting between Israel and Hizbollah two years ago, and called for renewed respect for the Blue Line separating Israeli and Lebanese forces, the disarming of militias and an end to arms smuggling, among other measures.

Mr. Ban underlines the importance of ensuring that the area between the Blue Line and the Litani River is free of unauthorized armed personnel, assets and weapons, and called on the Lebanese Government to ensure the Force’s full freedom of movement.

The Secretary-General also called on Israel to cease all overflights, noting that air violations “not only continued unabated during the reporting period, but also reached record levels during the months of March and April 2008.”

Meanwhile, he also notes the emergence of “several positive indicators in the region” which bode well for further progress in implementing resolution 1701, among them signals from Syrian President Basher Al-Assad regarding the establishment of diplomatic ties between his country and Lebanon.

“I urge both parties to capitalize on this potential momentum and to work together towards the delineation of their common border,” he stated, adding that restoring ties and dealing with such issues will go a long way in addressing key elements of the resolution.

He is also encouraged by renewed declarations from the international community on the importance of finding a solution to the question of the Shab’a Farms area, and he plans to strengthen the diplomatic process aimed at resolving this key issue.

In addition, the Secretary-General points out that, with the Doha agreement, there are new opportunities for the Lebanese people to consolidate the country’s political stability and create an environment conducive to further addressing critical challenges.

The agreement – which helped break Lebanon’s political deadlock by paving the way for the election of a new president and the establishment of a national unity cabinet – was reached in late May after deadly violence between pro- and anti-Government militias erupted in the capital, Beirut, and elsewhere.

“I look forward to the speedy establishment of a national unity Government and to the revitalization of the constitutional institutions of Lebanon, which I believe will help the country make further concrete progress on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006),” he writes.