The United Nations will maintain its “strong and unwavering” commitment to Lebanon, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged today as he began an official visit to the country.
Lebanon marks Mr. Ban’s first trip abroad since beginning his second term as Secretary-General on 1 January. The country is home to the Organization’s third-largest peacekeeping operation, as well as the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).
“I am in Lebanon to underline my personal commitment to stability, security and peace in this country,” he stated during a press conference in Beirut after meeting with President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Speaker Nabih Berri.
Mr. Ban discussed a range of issues with the leaders, including the implementation of Security Council resolutions and the country’s important contributions to the UN, as well as the current situation in Syria and its potential impact on Lebanon.
“The United Nations will maintain its strong and unwavering commitment to Lebanon. Our goal is the same as yours: stability, safety and a better future for the Leban[ese] people,” he stated.
In a related development, Mr. Ban today appointed Derek Plumbly of the United Kingdom, a senior diplomat with a career in international affairs spanning over 35 years, as his Special Coordinator for Lebanon. He will succeed Michael Williams, also of the UK, who served in Lebanon from August 2008 until September 2011.
“This is a critical moment in the region,” Mr. Ban told reporters. “It is a time for meaningful change; time to stop the violence and end injustice; time to give people the opportunities they deserve to build a better life.”
The Secretary-General said the UN expects Lebanon to keep contributing to progress, and to fully meet all of its international obligations, including the full implementation of resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese group Hizbollah.
He said that 1701 has brought an “unprecedented” degree of relative calm and stability to southern Lebanon, adding that the situation along the so-called Blue Line separating Israel and Lebanon – despite a number of serious incidents – has been largely stable since 2006.
Work also remains to be done to ensure that Lebanon’s sovereignty is fully extended across all of its territory and that there remain no arms outside the authority of the State, added Mr. Ban, who voiced his deep concern at the military capacity of Hizbollah and the lack of progress in disarmament.
He said the UN also continues to expect Lebanon to support and cooperate fully with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which was set up to try those alleged to be responsible for the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. “A judicial process is now under way, and we look forward to its outcome,” he stated.
The Secretary-General is in the process of consulting with the Lebanese Government and the Security Council on how long the mandate of the tribunal, which will expire on 29 February, should be extended.
During the visit, Mr. Ban will also meet with blue helmets serving in the south of the country with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and open a high-level meeting on Arab reforms and democracy, organized by ESCWA.