Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 October 2019

UN mission in Lebanon extended for a year

Diplomats unanimously vote to prolong mandate but US repeats its doubts

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen, the US acting permanent representative to the UN, on Thursday indicated that the current troop ceiling for Unifil might be reduced. EPA/BRYAN R. SMITH
Ambassador Jonathan Cohen, the US acting permanent representative to the UN, on Thursday indicated that the current troop ceiling for Unifil might be reduced. EPA/BRYAN R. SMITH

World powers unanimously agreed on Thursday to extend the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon by one year but the US said it was time to consider “right-sizing” troop numbers.

Negotiations about renewing the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, or Unifil, focused on its size and the ability of blue helmets to gain access to southern areas of the country.

Israel, angered eight months ago after finding Hezbollah tunnels under its border with Lebanon and accused of using surveillance drones over Beirut in the past week, lobbied the US over the terms of UN mission.

Diplomats say this led the US, which currently has no troops there, to propose that maximum number for the mission be reduced from 15,000 to 9,000.

The US mission to the UN would not confirm that number after the council voted 15-0 to extend the peacekeeping role, with no reduction to the maximum.

But when addressing the council, Jonathan Cohen, acting US permanent representative to the UN, appeared to confirm that cuts had been sought, saying more had to be done to ensure peacekeepers were not hindered.

“In this renewal, we made serious efforts to address access issues,” Mr Cohen said.

“The fact that Unifil cannot access all of the areas within its area of operations leads us to believe that it is time to re-examine troop strength and begin the process of putting the mission on a trajectory towards right-sizing.

“In the year ahead, we will be scrutinising the ability of the mission to implement its mandate and we hope the UN will take seriously the assessment of the continued relevance of Unifil's resources and options for mission efficiencies.

"We need to see serious progress and cannot, and will not, accept the status quo moving forward.”

The mission has 10,277 peacekeepers from 44 countries, of which Indonesia (1,309), Italy (1,070), Nepal (873) and Ghana (869) are the biggest contributors, the UN says.

Updated: August 30, 2019 03:12 AM

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