Armed groups, weapons still threatening Lebanon's stability, reports UN envoy
While noting further strides towards strengthening Lebanon's sovereignty, a top United Nations official today highlighted the continuing threat posed by the proliferation of weapons and armed groups in the country.
Terje Roed-Larsen told a meeting of the Security Council that the situation in Lebanon has improved "markedly" since last May, when an accord reached in Doha helped break the country's political deadlock by paving the way for the election of a new president and the establishment of a national unity cabinet.
"The general improvement of the situation in the country combined with reconciliation efforts in the region has created a favourable environment to strengthen Lebanon's sovereignty, political independence and Government control throughout the country," said Mr. Roed-Larsen, who is Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Envoy for the Implementation of Resolution 1559.
Adopted by the Security Council in 2004 amid concern about high tensions within Lebanon, resolution 1559 calls for free and fair elections, an end to foreign interference and the disbanding of all militias.
Mr. Roed-Larsen noted that since the adoption of the resolution, several of its provisions have now been implemented. Presidential elections took place in May 2008; Syria withdrew its troops and military assets from Lebanon in April 2005; and the two neighbours have established diplomatic relations and engaged in high-level talks on relevant matters.
At the same time, he said he remained concerned by occasional security incidents in recent months, some of which have led to casualties.
"These occurrences highlight the proliferation of weapons and armed groups that continue to operate in Lebanon and whose existence is an ongoing violation of resolution 1559," he stated. "These are direct threats to the stability of the country and the region as a whole."
He stressed in particular that the disbanding and disarming of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias is a necessary element to the complete consolidation of Lebanon as a sovereign and democratic State.
"The most significant remaining Lebanese militia is the armed component of Hizbollah," he noted, adding that the group continues to maintain a significant para-military capacity and infrastructure separate from the State, in violation of resolution 1559. "This arsenal is a direct challenge to the sovereignty of the Lebanese State and a threat to regional stability."
In addition, Mr. Roed-Larsen reported that, over the last few weeks, there has been a growing concern that Hizbollah has engaged in clandestine and illegal militant activities beyond Lebanese territory.
He said Mr. Ban has been informed by the Government of Egypt that, during 2008, a cell led by a Lebanese member of Hizbollah was uncovered in Egypt. The Egyptian Government informed the UN that the issue is now in the hands of the judiciary.
Also, over the last few weeks, the Lebanese authorities have arrested a series of individuals on suspicion of spying for Israel, Mr. Roed-Larsen stated, adding that if these allegations prove true, they would constitute a serious violation of Lebanon's sovereignty.
The Special Envoy also told the Council that the parliamentary elections scheduled for 7 June will constitute a "new milestone" in Lebanon's momentous transition, and said it is heartening that Lebanese leaders have committed themselves to a free and fair election devoid of violence and inflammatory rhetoric.