|Ban presses Lebanese to agree on Hariri court
|UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said during a visit to Lebanon Friday that it would be "premature" to comment on the possible establishment of an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, when "all constitutional procedures have not yet been taken" by the Lebanese to ratify a draft agreement on the court.
Ban addressed reporters at an afternoon news conference with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at the Grand Serail. He appealed to the Lebanese to "take all necessary measures" to ensure the establishment of the tribunal.
"The UN and the Lebanese government, after long negotiations, agreed on the text [of the tribunal draft] and we sent it back to the government," he said. "We hope [the Lebanese] will ratify it through their constitutional process."
Ban urged all Lebanese leaders to put their differences aside to pave the way for the tribunal's establishment, pointing out that UN member countries are obliged to comply with Security Council resolutions.
Earlier Friday, Siniora sent Education Minister Khaled Qabbani to deliver the draft proposal for the tribunal to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's office in Ain al-Tineh, but there was no one there to receive it.
In an ensuing statement, Berri's office asked why Siniora "forgot" that "we only receive drafts that have been approved by the presidency as stated in Article 53 of the Constitution. As much as we respect Qabbani, why has Siniora turned him into a postman?"
Siniora said among the issues he had discussed with the secretary general was Israeli violations of the cease-fire resolution that ended the summer 2006 war, "whether through overflights of Lebanese territory or through the continued occupation of the northern portion of the village of Ghajar."
The prime minister said progress had been made by cartographers to establish the identity of the Shebaa Farms and that the government looks forward for the secretary general's June report on the matter.
Ban said that cartographers are reviewing, assessing and correcting historical maps with good progress being made, adding that he will be able to report on the matter before the end of June. He said it was premature to say whether the UN would take control of the Shebaa Farms once the nationality of the territory has been determined.
"We spoke [with Ban] of measures taken by Lebanese security forces, with technical assistance from Germany and Denmark, to secure our frontiers and stressed the need to train Lebanese [armed and security] forces," Siniora said.
"We urged the secretary general to pressure Israel for the release of Lebanese prisoners and to give up maps showing the locations of land mines and cluster munitions, which result in daily casualties among the local population and UNIFIL forces," he added.
Siniora thanked Ban for declaring his support for the government, reassuring the secretary general that the government enjoyed the support of the majority in Parliament and the Lebanese people and that "it remains committed to dialogue [to solve the current crisis] in conformity with our constitutional institutions and international law."
Ban said that his meetings with the prime minister and Cabinet ministers had been "informative and constructive." He hailed "the historic achievement of deploying the Lebanese Army to the South" but said that "1701 requires more effort to strengthen border monitoring," in reference to the UN cease-fire resolution.
Ban said the issue of Lebanese prisoners in Israel was a "humanitarian issue" and that Israeli violations of Lebanese territory must stop.
With regard to the four-month-long political crisis in Lebanon, Ban said: "A path of dialogue and compromise has to be the way out of this impasse."
He also said the UN "will remain steadfast" in its commitment to Lebanon.
In reply to Ban's expression of concern about alleged arms smuggling from Syria, Siniora said "the army is doing everything possible to secure the border. So far we have not identified one single case of smuggling."
Siniora said the government, with technical assistance from Germany, is working to "improve technical know-how and upgrade capacity" to control the border.
He also asked the secretary general to share whatever information the UN has about cross-border smuggling.
On the issue of Hizbullah, Ban said: "Disarming Hizbullah is an important element of 1701. I have discussed [this matter] with leaders in the region."
Siniora interjected at this point to say that the government "does not have the word disarmament in its dictionary" and that all action in this vein has to come through dialogue and consensus among the Lebanese.
Asked about alleged Syrian involvement in the string of bombings and assassination attempts targeting anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon going back to Hariri's murder, Ban said: "The independent commission is investigating and has made several reports to the Security Council and updated these reports. I am not in a position at this time to [comment] until the investigation is finalized. I strongly urge investigations proceed as smoothly as possible."
Speaking to reporters after holding talks with Berri, Ban again urged politicians to approve the tribunal.
"I welcome Lebanese national consensus on the tribunal but stress the importance of moving forward on this issue," Ban said. "I urged the parties to find a quick solution to this issue while respecting Lebanon's constitutional procedures."
Ban also held talks with Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri. Discussions centered on 1701 and the tribunal.
Following the meeting, Hariri said: "We discussed the matter of the international tribunal. The secretary general wished to know what progress has been made on the ratification of the draft of the tribunal and he reiterated the importance of establishing such a court under all circumstances because failing to punish the culprits responsible for all these crimes is like giving them a license to kill."
Ban and Nicholas Michel, UN undersecretary general for legal affairs, met with Justice Minister Charles Rizk and magistrates Choukri Sader and Ralph Riachi to discuss the draft of the tribunal.
Ban also met at his hotel with Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and resigned Energy and Water Minister Mohammed Fneish, representing Hizbullah.
For security reasons Ban stayed away from UN headquarters in Downtown Beirut, where opposition supporters have camped out since December 1 as part of a campaign to pressure the government. Instead, hundreds of UN staff were driven in buses across Beirut to meet the secretary general at his hotel.
The Daily Star