UN looks to next steps in Syria, including disarming militia in Lebanon, envoy says

Terje Roed-Larsen

2 November 2005 – The United Nations is aiming to help resolve outstanding issues between Syria and Lebanon such as the disbanding of militias and the demarcation of a border between the two countries, now that key Security Council goals for Lebanon have been met, including the holding of parliamentary elections and the withdrawal of Syrian troops, a senior UN official said today in New York.

"We have applied a gradual approach to the different positions," Terje Roed-Larsen, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for implementing Security Council resolution 1559, said. That text calls for withdrawing all foreign forces from Lebanon, holding free elections, disbanding all militias and extending Government control over the whole country. He said priority had been given to the first of those goals, "and we are now addressing the two last main provisions."

The UN has encouraged the Government of Lebanon to enter into a dialogue with Hezbollah, which it has informally done. "We are encouraging this dialogue to continue," Mr. Roed-Larsen told reporters after briefing the Security Council in closed session.

"Further, we are encouraging the Government of Lebanon to set up a mechanism with the different Palestinian groups in order to resolve the issue of disbanding them and disarming them," he added.

The Lebanese Government has set up a mechanism for this purpose, "and has so far concentrated on preventing these militias to carry or display arms outside the camps, and that is the next step addressing putting the camps into order."

The UN will continue to assist the Government of Lebanon and maintain dialogue with other regional players that might influence developments, the envoy pledged.

He voiced concern about the demarcation of an international boundary between the two countries and the establishment of diplomatic relations. "This should also happen through bilateral dialogue," he said. A recognized border would make it easier for the UN and the international community to verify whether there is any Syrian presence in Lebanon, "which is difficult now since there is no international boundary."

Responding to press questions, he said Council members agreed that reporting on the requirements of resolution 1559 should continue, with the next report due in six months.

Regarding the flow of arms, he said neither Syria nor Lebanon disputes that these exist, Mr. Larsen said. "The Government of Syria maintains that there is a flow of arms going both from Syria into Lebanon and the other way, from Lebanon into Syria. We are not in a position to have an assessment of what types of arms [or] the volume of arms."

In his report to the Security Council, released earlier this week, Mr. Annan said the illegal transfer of arms and people from Syria towards armed Palestinian groups in Lebanon "has threatened to cast a shadow on the efforts aimed at bolstering Lebanon's sovereignty."

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