Global perspective Human stories

Ban urges Israel to restrain settlement building in occupied Palestinian land

Ban urges Israel to restrain settlement building in occupied Palestinian land

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
In a review of global crisis flashpoints, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on Israel to restore a settlement moratorium in occupied Palestinian territory and warned that mishandling of the independence referendum in Southern Sudan could spark renewed conflict.

He also stressed the independence of the United Nations-backed tribunal entrusted with uncovering the truth behind the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others in 2005, and denied that a human rights report on massacres in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had been toned down to save face for neighbouring countries cited in the report who also contribute troops to UN peacekeeping forces.

“In recent days I have spoken with principal players on each side, including [Israeli] Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu and President [Mahmoud] Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, as well as US special envoy George Mitchell,” Mr. Ban told his monthly news conference, citing the Middle East conflict first in a review of issues discussed in the mini-summits and bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the recent opening of this year’s General Assembly.

“All told me they were committed to finding solutions to the problems immediately before us. All want to keep the peace process going. I urge Israel to restore settlement restraint, under its Roadmap obligations, and I urge Arab leaders meeting in Sirte to keep doors open and support President Abbas. Negotiations should move forward intensively, focused on resolving core issues – not talks for the sake of talks.”

The Roadmap refers to the internationally endorsed plan to establish a Palestinian State living side by side with Israel in peace and security. Israel did not extend a 10-month moratorium on settlement building that expired at the end of September, without which Mr. Abbas has said he will not continue the peace talks, an issue he will discuss with other Arab League leaders at a meeting on Friday in Sirte, Libya.

Mr. Ban noted that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon came up in a number of meetings. “I want to be perfectly clear. This tribunal is independent, with a clear mandate from the Security Council to uncover the truth and end impunity,” he stressed. “That work is important and it must go ahead. I urge all Lebanese and regional parties not to prejudge the outcome, nor to interfere in the Tribunal’s work.”

The Tribunal is an independent body that was set up in The Hague in the Netherlands, following a probe by an independent international commission after an earlier UN mission found that Lebanon’s own inquiry into the massive car bombing in February 2005 was seriously flawed and that Syria was primarily responsible for the political tensions that preceded the attack.

Mr. Ban today reviewed the Middle East negotiations and Lebanon in talks with Israeli opposition leader and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni. While concern was expressed at reports of the rearmament of Hizbollah, with whom Israel fought a month-long war in 2006, the Secretary-General urged respect for the Blue Line separating Israel and Lebanon.

As he has in the past, Mr. Ban called on Israel to cease its over-flights of Lebanese territory and expressed the hope that progress could soon be realized on Ghajar, the northern part of which is still occupied by Israel, according to his spokesperson.

Turning to Sudan, Mr. Ban noted that there are less than 100 days before two referenda on self-determination in Africa’s largest country on 9 January. “The stakes could not be higher,” he said.

“Handled properly, the January ballot could help build a future that improves the lives of all Sudanese. Handled poorly, it could spark conflict, with consequences across Africa and beyond.”

The referendum in Southern Sudan is the final stage in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the 2005 pact that ended two decades of fighting between the northern-based Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in the south.

A second referendum is being held in the oil-rich Abyei region to decide whether it belongs to northern or southern Sudan and Mr. Ban today voiced concern at the lack of progress in forming the Abyei Commission.

“Both sides, north and south, agreed that the vote should take place as scheduled, and that they would accept the results,” he declared. “They further agreed that negotiations on their common future should take place peacefully within the agreed framework of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.”

On the DRC, Mr. Ban stressed the high standing of a recent UN human rights report that found that “indescribable” atrocities were committed from 1993 to 2003 by both armed Congolese groups and foreign national military forces, with tens of thousands of people killed and numerous others raped and mutilated.

“The report was not ‘toned down,’ as some claimed. No deal done to save face for any troop-contributing nations,” he said, noting that it is now up to the DRC Government to act on its recommendations, especially as they relate to transitional justice.

The UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) is now reviewing its policies and operations in the aftermath of recent fighting and the rape of more than 300 unprotected civilians in eastern North Kivu province, where UN peacekeepers are stationed, he added, but he pointed out the limits on action by the world body in such a vast country.

“This was a clear tragedy, and we must find ways to do better,” he declared. “Bluntly put, the sheer geography is too large, the number of peacekeepers too small, our resources too limited. That said, despite these constraints, we are taking steps. We are improving our civilian alert system. We will make increasing use of the tools available to us in potential areas of trouble. For example, we will do more random ‘spot’ patrolling.”