UN urges Lebanese to engage in dialogue to resolve tensions with peacekeepers
“We are fully aware of the problems military operations in civilian areas may cause to the people,” Major General Alberto Asarta Cuevas, the Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), stated in an open letter to the people living in the country’s south.
Last week, villagers reportedly staged numerous protests against the Force as it carried out its maximum deployment exercise, a routine activity to ensure the readiness of its troops on the ground.
The UN has stated that particular care is taken to minimize disturbance or inconvenience to the local population during the exercise, and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) are fully informed of the activity, its nature and purpose.
Major General Asarta Cuevas said that while UNIFIL takes all possible measures to mitigate any inconveniences to residents, problems may arise.
“The way to deal with those problems is to discuss them directly with UNIFIL, as we have always done in order to find amicable solutions, not by obstructing the work of peacekeepers or by beating them,” he wrote.
UNIFIL is tasked with, among other things, monitoring the 2006 ceasefire between Israel and Hizbollah; accompanying and supporting the LAF as they deploy throughout the south; and extending its assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons.
The Force Commander noted that while these activities may sometimes cause some disturbances, there will never be any “hidden agenda” behind them.
“Our presence in Lebanon … has no other purpose than helping you to live in peace, contributing with all our means to your protection and the stability of the area,” he said.
UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams has insisted that the freedom of movement of UNIFIL be ensured, pointing out that its exercise was carried out as part of its normal operations and with full respect of its mandate.
During their meeting in Beirut yesterday, Mr. Williams and Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Murr agreed that the excellent cooperation between UNIFIL and LAF over the past four years has been the backbone of the stability that has prevailed in south Lebanon.
“This cooperation, we believe, must be maintained and enhanced,” said Mr. Williams.