UN urges Lebanese to engage in dialogue to resolve tensions with peacekeepers

8 July 2010The head of the United Nations force in southern Lebanon has called on the local population to engage in dialogue with his peacekeepers to resolve any issues concerning recent military activities carried in the area, which have led to a number of confrontations. “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. read more

Joint opposition warns will stage mass strike if no polls

Gammanpila said that UNESCO has not issued any warning to Sri Lanka on the cave as claimed by the Government.Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday asserted that the Dambulla cave temple must be protected and steps must be taken to ensure it does not lose its world heritage status. The joint opposition today warned it will stage a mass protest if the Local Government (LG) election is not declared by October.Joint opposition Parliamentarian Udaya Gammanpila said that if an election is not declared by October the opposition will take to streets till the election is held. He also claimed there was no threat to the world heritage status of the Dambulla cave temple. He said that the joint opposition will not run scared of tear-gas and water cannons. Speaking to a group of monks, he said if steps are not taken to preserve the site in line with the recommendations of UNESCO by December 1st this year it will lose its world heritage status next year.The Prime Minister said that the Dambulla cave temple has been damaged in the recent past and there was a request to take steps to conserve the historic site. (Colombo Gazette) read more