21 August 2006

In Remarks to Troop-Contributing Countries, Deputy Secretary-General Says "Rapidly Reinforced UNIFIL" Key to Reassertion of Lebanese Sovereignty

NEW YORK, 18 August (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks by UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown at the meeting of troop-contributing countries in New York, 17 August:

Thank you for joining us on such short notice.  I know you are here because of your concern over the death and destruction in Lebanon and Israel, and because you share our determination to see a full and lasting end to that conflict.

Last week's Security Council resolution 1701 -- accepted by all parties to the conflict -- has finally provided the international community with a basis to resolve the crisis.

As we meet, the cessation of hostilities prompted by the resolution continues to hold.  But the situation on the ground is tenuous.  We must all act with great urgency to construct a lasting ceasefire from the current cessation of fighting.

And I realize you all have questions that we must seek to provide answers for today, about both the Concept of Operations and the Rules of Engagement.  Today we will give you answers, but I hope that -- if not today, in the next few days at the most -- you can give us an answer.  What can you commit when?

There has also been talk of the different roles countries might play.  Our view is that ultimately the legitimacy of this Force rests on it being truly multilateral in character.  So we would hope to have both a core of bigger contributors who reflect that, but also others who would provide critical contributions against particular needs.  It would also be our intention to ensure that the bigger contributors are reflected adequately in the composition of the headquarters of the force.

Of the many tasks facing the international community in Lebanon -- and the UN is already supporting the Government of Lebanon in areas from humanitarian recovery to the beginning of longer-term recovery and reconstruction -- none is more urgent, nor more fundamental, to preserving the peace than the deployment, in tandem with and supporting the Lebanese Army, of an expanded, more robust United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

As Prime Minister Siniora stated in his address to the nation yesterday, Lebanon wants a "strong State with [a] strong army.  There will be no land in Lebanon which is prohibited to the army.  There will be no weapons but those of the army."

The rapid deployment of this stronger, enhanced UNIFIL will enable Prime Minister Siniora to fulfil that commitment, and is key to an Israeli withdrawal in parallel with the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces.  Indeed, today Israeli forces withdrew from three sectors.

The historic tripartite meetings this past week have revealed a resolve by both sides to fulfil their obligations in this regard with great haste -- but both sides will be looking for help from UNIFIL to make this happen.

So a rapidly reinforced UNIFIL is key to a historic reassertion of Lebanese sovereignty over the South.  And most important of all, it is key to establishing conditions needed for the kind of broader political process required to underpin a permanent ceasefire.

As the Security Council resolution recognizes, and as today's presentation will make clear, this will be a strong, robust force, equipped and authorized to take all necessary action in its key tasks of supporting the Lebanese Army in humanitarian efforts, preventing the resumption of hostilities, and in establishing, between the Blue Line and the Litani River, an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and UNIFIL.  It will also "assist the Government of Lebanon, at its request, to secure its borders and entry points; to prevent entry of arms and related material".

The draft rules of engagement call for the use of force to prevent the UNIFIL area of deployment and operations from being used for hostile activities; to resist attempts to prevent UNIFIL from discharging its duties under the mandate of Security Council resolutions 425 and 1701; and in assisting the Government of Lebanon, at its request, to secure its borders and other points of entry to prevent the entry into Lebanon, without the Government's consent, of foreign forces, arms or related materials.

So robust, yes, but not an offensive Force.  It is there to keep the peace as a longer-term political solution is put in place.  Because the key to resolving this conflict and many of the wider challenges faced in the region is not military but political.  That is clearly recognized in the full resolution and it is why the Secretary-General is today despatching a team to visit Lebanon and Israel to begin working through how best to implement all its provisions, and he is planning to travel himself to the region at a later stage.

And it is very important that the parties to the conflict understand this.  The international community will assist them in meeting this resolution but they owe it, not only to their own people but to our soldiers who will have to put their lives on the line for peace, that they arrive at a political solution that offers Israel security and Lebanon peace and sovereignty.  This must be their commitment to our peacekeepers.

This meeting today is a critical step on the path towards that stable, lasting peace.  Realizing this hope requires not just boldness and vision from all of the parties to the conflict.  It needs the tangible commitment and support of the international community as well.

The Secretary-General has been encouraged by the number of Member States that have expressed interest in contributing forces to the new UNIFIL.  We must convert promises into firm commitments, and commitments into rapid deployments on the ground.  Every moment we delay is a moment of risk that the fighting could re-erupt.

Our firm hope and intention remains to deploy an advance party of at least 3,500 troops to augment the existing 2,000-strong UNIFIL force within the next 10 days, and then to build up to the 15,000 authorized by Security Council resolution 1701.

This is an enormous, challenging and complex undertaking.  Normally, deployments of this nature take many months.  But because of its importance, we are waiving, on an exceptional basis, many of our normal procedures in order to cut through the bureaucracy and get boots on the ground as quickly as possible.

But we cannot do it alone.  The United Nations, as always but never more than when it comes to troops, is no more and no less than its Member States.  I know many of you still have concerns about exactly how the Force would operate.  This meeting is intended to address them, and pave the way for you to become our partners in this mission.

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