|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Outgoing Special Coordinator for Lebanon
At his last Headquarters press conference before the end of a three-year term as United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams said today that his departure came at a time of profound change and tumult in the Middle East and that his ardent wish was for democracy to flourish as real peace took hold in the region.
An experienced diplomat whose senior positions with the United Nations had taken him from the Middle East to Cambodia to the former Yugoslavia, Mr. Williams lauded the Lebanese people for their extraordinary resilience during decades of an extraordinary history.
“I’m struck all the time by their resilience. There’s an extraordinary strength. There is an openness of debate in Lebanon that, until recently, was absent almost everywhere else. That is a great strength in Lebanon,” added Mr. Williams, who said he would return home to his family this weekend and a position in Britain’s House of Lords.
Mr. Williams said he was pleased that Security Council Resolution 1701 (2006) had held and provided southern Lebanon with the longest period of stability in decades. While it was true that there had been a number of troubling incidents, he said they were isolated incidents and neither Israel nor Lebanon wanted to see a future conflict.
Aspects of resolution 1701 had been successful, such as Israel’s release of Lebanese prisoners and the return of the remains of Israel soldiers by Hizbullah, but both sides needed stronger political will to take additional steps to move from the cessation of hostilities to a ceasefire, he said. “Moving forward to a ceasefire requires both parties to make courageous steps […] that would no doubt bring success and bring change,” he added.
In August 2006, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1701 (2006), which called for “the immediate cessation by Hizbullah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations” in Lebanon. The Security Council created a buffer zone free of “any armed personnel” — both Hizbullah militants and Israeli troops — between the United Nations-drawn Blue Line in southern Lebanon and the Litani River. The resolution also called for both Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire and comprehensive solution to the crisis.
Responding to a reporter’s question about the number of rockets possessed by Hizbullah, Mr. Williams said it was not an easy question to answer. Hizbullah possessed a considerable arsenal, but the real issue was that Hizbullah was not subject to control of the Lebanese State. “What we have is a non-State actor in possession of an arsenal of considerable size,” he added.
He noted Lebanon’s unique relationship with Syria, by virtue of its geography, history and shared family ties, and said many Lebanese were concerned by the recent developments in Syria and the prolonged tensions.
In response to a question about the continued Israeli presence in southern Lebanon and the daily overflights, he said the issue would have to be addressed in negotiations toward any formal ceasefire. The overflights were nearly a daily occurrence, and it would be difficult for any country to endure such an intrusion and violation of their sovereignty.
Mr. Williams also responded to questions about the recent closure of roads leading to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in Beirut after reports of a possible attack earlier this week. He recognized the hardship any road closure, whether temporary or permanent, caused for the city’s inhabitants, as the building was located on a piece of land abutted by two major north-south roadways.
The site faced the global risks encountered by all United Nations facilities, demonstrated by the August attack on United Nations offices in the Nigerian capital of Abuja that left 23 people dead. As a result, the Secretary-General had requested a review of security risks for all United Nations buildings.
ESCWA also faced a local risk factor, as the perpetrators of two recent attacks against convoys of the United Nations United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the south of Lebanon had been apprehended, and with a glass front, the ESCWA building itself was very vulnerable. United Nations officials were investigating other locations for its headquarters in Beirut, he said.
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