Posted by: africanpressorganization | 15 August 2008

Ethiopia / Eritrea / Press conference by force commanders of United Nations missions In Lebanon, Ethiopia/Eritrea



Ethiopia / Eritrea / Press conference by force commanders of United Nations missions In Lebanon, Ethiopia/Eritrea


ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, August 15, 2008/African Press Organization (APO)/ — The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) had been not only successful, but vital to ensuring stability in its area of operation, Major General Claudio Graziano, the Force Commander, said at a Headquarters press conference today.


Outlining the mission’s accomplishments since its expansion by the Security Council in resolution 1701 (2006), Major General Graziano said that UNIFIL, working with the Lebanese Army, had maintained the ceasefire in southern Lebanon and accomplished the largest part of its mandate under difficult conditions, which required consensus on the part of the parties, which bore the primary responsibility for implementing resolution 1701 (2006).


He stressed the need for the international community to support the Lebanese Armed Forces as a key element in resolving the situation in southern Lebanon, adding that they should be able to take over UNIFIL’s responsibility in the future.  “We are a peacekeeping mission, a strong peacekeeping mission; we are there to ensure stability and keep the window of opportunity open for the political peace process.”


Responding to several questions about the implications of the Lebanese Government’s new policy, by which resistance forces had the right to fight against occupation, he said UNIFIL had a clear mandate, which related to the area south of the Litani River and north of the Blue Line.  It was not up to the mission to interpret political comments.  What was important was that the Government statement reiterated its support for resolution 1701 (2006), which meant that the mission had to operate with the Lebanese Armed Forces to create an area free of weapons of any kind, except for those belonging to the Lebanese Armed Forces and UNIFIL.  The mission intended to stick to its mandate, and as long as the parties remained cooperative, the rules of engagement were consistent with that mandate.  In fact, the mission had received several communications from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces, both of which had reiterated their satisfaction with UNIFIL’s work.


Asked about the failure to end Israeli violations, he said the mission had not failed, emphasizing that the only possible way to implement resolution 1701 (2006) was through the support of the parties.  Of course, the mission had no instrument against violations other than protesting and formally inviting Israel to stop.


In reply to a related question, he said almost monthly tripartite meetings were the only forum for the negotiations between Israel and Lebanon, in which UNIFIL also participated.  At those meetings, both parties could present and discuss violations, including Israeli overflights of Lebanese airspace and allegations of illegal crossings by civilians.


On the Lebanese border village of Ghajar — the last position occupied by Israeli forces since its troops left southern Lebanon — he said that occupation was a “permanent violation of 1701”, but he hoped to come back soon with a very positive outcome in that regard.


Asked to comment on media reports claiming that UNIFIL had brokered a deal under which it would handle rescue efforts in the event that an Israeli plane was shot down over southern Lebanon, he said the mission had a clear mandate, rules of engagement and an agreement with the Lebanese Armed Forces.  Under those provisions, any persons detained by UNIFIL would be handed over to the Lebanese Armed Forces, who, as the representative of the legal Government, had the right to receive the detainees.


Responding to a question about arms smuggling, he said that in its area of operation, UNIFIL was working closely with the Lebanese Armed Forces to prevent smuggling by running numerous patrols every day.  While it was difficult to ensure “100 per cent” that the area was impermeable, the mission was in control of the situation.  It investigated alleged violations and reported suspicious activities.


Asked about the security of personnel, he said that, having been attacked several times, UNIFIL took all threats very seriously, but was not deterred by them.  The mission was taking measures to ensure full protection of all units, while also working closely with the Lebanese Army to prevent any incidents.  UNIFIL’s relations with the local population were also very positive.


To another question, he replied that the mission already had an office in Beirut, and resolution 1701 (2006) required it to establish an office in Tel Aviv as well.  While some administrative issues remained to be cleared, it was to be hoped that the office, once established, would become a very useful tool.  It was expected to be opened by the end of 2008.


Asked what UNIFIL would do if it uncovered concrete evidence of arms in Hizbullah’s possession, Major General Graziano replied that, while the mission had arrested some people in possession of handguns, it had never seen any evidence of weapons moving south of the Litani River.  Hizbullah was one of the parties that had agreed to resolution 1701 (2006), and it was in the group’s political interest to support UNIFIL.


In response to several additional questions about arms smuggling, he emphasized the big contribution of the Maritime Task Force in monitoring the situation at sea, noting that the territory of southern Lebanon was “not that huge”.  The mission covered it well through a mix of patrols, checkpoints and observation points.  It was also very important to coordinate its efforts with the Lebanese Armed Forces.


Also present at the press conference was Brigadier Patrick Davidson-Houston, Acting Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).  He and Major General Graziano were among a group of Force Commanders and senior officers visiting New York for talks at Headquarters.  Several of them have been holding press conferences throughout the week.


Brigadier Davidson-Houston said that following the Security Council’s termination of its mandate on 30 July, UNMEE was now in a phase of “extremely rapid” drawdown and termination of activities.  Its Jordanian contingent had left on Monday, a small Kenyan contingent was scheduled to leave tomorrow and most of the Indian contingent would leave around 21 August.  The Uruguayan aviation contingent would leave at the beginning of September, and the last uniformed member of UNMEE was expected to be out of the region by the end of September.


Responding to several questions, he said the Mission’s withdrawal clearly meant that it would no longer have a foot on the ground in either Ethiopia or Eritrea, and thus would no longer be able to report and monitor the situation.  No United Nations presence would be left in either country, and all contingent-owned equipment was expected to be withdrawn from the area by mid-September.  The removal of United Nations-owned equipment would take a little longer.  Some of it was beyond economic use and would be disposed of in-country.  None of it had any military use whatsoever.





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