|Annan urges return of soldiers, end to blockade
|Un chief booed during brief tour of beirut suburbs
The UN chief has demanded full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, that two Israeli prisoners held by Hizbullah be handed over to the International Red Cross and that Israel lift its blockade of Lebanon.
Kofi Annan arrived in Beirut Monday for a two-day visit, meeting with Premier Fouad Siniora, Speaker Nabih Berri and Cabinet members before heading to the capital's badly damaged southern suburbs.
After only a 10-minute tour of Beirut's devastated Dahiyeh, Annan was booed out by angry residents who blame the UN, the US and Israel for the heavy destruction of Israel's 34-day offensive against Lebanon.
It was Annan's second visit to Lebanon. He first came to Beirut for the 2002 Arab Summit.
"This is a very critical time for Lebanon and I believe it was important that I come here myself to discuss with the Lebanese authorities the aftermath of the war and the measures being taken to implement UN resolutions, and also to underscore international solidarity," Annan said upon his arrival at Beirut's international airport. "We are going to work with the government."
After meeting with Berri in his residence of Ain al-Tineh, Annan said the two had "discussed the war and the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701. [Berri] has assured me of the determination of the government and people of Lebanon to implement the resolution faithfully and the expectation that the Israeli government will do the same.
"There is lot of work to be done ... we are now entering the stage of recovery and reconstruction ... the UN and the international community will want to work very effectively with the parties to ensure that we do implement the resolution to the fullest and that we have a long-term peace in this region.
"We have a chance now to have a long-term cease-fire ... and we all need to work together. The international community is in solidarity with [the Lebanese] as was demonstrated in Brussels on Friday when the European Union offered more than 7,000 troops to deploy in South Lebanon and work with us in ensuring long-term peace."
Berri said that he and Annan had "discussed the issue of the Israeli blockade on Lebanon and the necessity of enhancing Syrian-Lebanese relations."
Siniora, who met with Annan twice on Monday, said: "We discussed the blockade, Israeli reluctance to withdraw from Lebanese territories and UN peacekeepers. I also expressed Lebanon's commitment to Resolution 1701."
Addressing reporters in a conference after meeting with Lebanon's Cabinet and premier, Annan said: "We are working for the lifting of the siege, I am discussing it with the Israeli authorities tomorrow... I hope there will be some movements on this in the not-too-distant future.
"Without the full implementation of 1701, hostilities will continue to exist ... I am impressed to see that Lebanon has so far respected the [UN-demarcated] Blue Line."
When asked if the UN troops would shoot at the Israeli side if it continues to breach the cease-fire and rules of engagement by attacking civilians, Annan said UN peacekeepers "will use any means and measures to defend themselves."
Annan added that "when there is war," even the UN, which represents 192 countries, "has to get permission from the clashing parties to pass on its humanitarian aid to the civilians in inflicted areas."
Annan called upon Lebanon to implement "The Taif Accord ... which includes disarming of all militias. It is time to look to the future ... most Lebanese want to see a society free of weapons. Let us not kid ourselves that the disarmament can only be through force. We have examples in the past of peaceful disarmament."
Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis said that around six ministers made several comments to Annan during the Cabinet meeting.
Sarkis told The Daily Star: "Social Affairs Minister Nayla Mouawad and Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamade gave Annan a message to deliver to the Syrian regime to respect Lebanon's sovereignty and independence."
Sarkis added that Annan had confirmed that the status of Shebaa Farms was on the agenda for his upcoming meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The Daily Star