Daily Star: Controversy over Confirmation of Withdrawal Stems from ‘Larsen’s Ego and Annan’s Travel Plans’

Published June 19th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

In a report by the Lebanese Daily Star, it charged that the hasty and tactless manner in which the UN publicly declared that Israel had fully withdrawn from Lebanon appears to have been fueled by personal animosity between UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen and Lebanese officials as much as by a desire to end the process of verifying Israel’s withdrawal.  

The English daily said Sunday that the UN confirmation of the Israeli withdrawal, accurate or not, will not only allow a strengthened UNIFIL to deploy to the border but will apparently also lead to a new post being created for a special UN coordinator for Lebanon who will report directly to Larsen.  

Despite clear Lebanese objections to the withdrawal-verification process and genuine ambiguities over the extent of Israel’s pullout, said the report, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced on Friday that Israel had fulfilled Resolution 425 and fully withdrawn from Lebanon.  

Annan proceeded with his news conference on Friday having won assurances from the Israelis that by Saturday they would pull out of two locations which crossed the line of withdrawal.  

With a busy itinerary this week, including his trip to the Middle East, Annan was unwilling to have last-minute disputes over the Israeli withdrawal upset his schedule.  

“The news conference was scheduled and it’s been assumed over the past week that things would be wrapped up by (last) Thursday,” said a well-placed source in Washington. “Obviously the Secretariat thinks that residual problems will be resolved quickly.”  

During the news conference, the UN secretary-general said UNIFIL had informed him that Israel had complied with Resolution 425 and withdrawn completely from Lebanon. Yet only a few hours before the announcement, UNIFIL spokesman Timur Goksel was quoted as saying that while the inspection of the border had ended on Friday, the verification process was not over. A number of discrepancies had yet to be resolved.  

UNIFIL’s conspicuous silence over the weekend in the face of this apparent contradiction leads one to suspect that the 22-year-old peacekeeping force found Annan’s premature endorsement awkward to say the least.  

On Friday The Daily Star witnessed Israeli troops in the northern half of Ghajar which falls in Lebanese territory after the UN verification team had checked the area.  

Despite Annan’s confirmation of an Israeli withdrawal, eyewitnesses confirmed that Israeli troops remained north of the withdrawal line in Ghajar on Sunday. The soldiers were spotted five minutes after the UN team had returned to reconnoiter the area for a second time.  

The UN has been pressing for a speedy conclusion to the border-verification process so that a reinforced UNIFIL can begin deploying throughout the former occupation zone.  

The process, however, was complicated by the creation of a specific line of withdrawal by Larsen for the purposes of confirming Israel’s pullout.  

In his report on Resolution 425’s implementation, Annan had decreed that the line of withdrawal should conform to the 1923 Anglo-French boundary subsequently ratified by the 1949 Armistice Agreement.  

Larsen, however, chose to deviate from the 1923/1949 line in favor of Israel in a few key places. The Lebanese were told that the deviation was to address “Israeli security needs” a justification that won little sympathy in Beirut.  

As soon as Larsen chose to depart from the impartial 1923/1949 line, the operation was bound to become subject to controversy and disagreements.  

However, Lebanese complaints of bias which were outlined in a detailed presidential memorandum last week went ignored by the UN.  

This was due, in no small part, to a contemptuous attitude from certain UN officials to the government and also personal animosity directed by Larsen toward Major General Jamil Sayyed, the director-general of the Surete Generale.  

The UN special envoy has apparently resented Sayyed’s presence in formal meetings to discuss Israel’s withdrawal since his first trip to Lebanon at the beginning of May.  

Reuters quoted a “senior UN official” on Sunday as blaming Beirut’s rejection of Annan’s declaration on “one finicky general.” According to Reuters the official said that Lebanon’s civilian leadership was unable to overrule his assessments.  

The “senior UN official” is believed to have been Larsen himself, while the “finicky general” was apparently Sayyed.  

“There is, I’m sorry to say, profound contempt on both  

the professional and personal level,” the Washington-based source said. “Perhaps it goes both ways.”  

The source added that this was no excuse for the “not-quite-right UN Secretariat action.”  

A Western diplomat in Beirut admitted that there had been some “hanky panky” on the part of the UN and warned that an inability to forge a solution could even result in renewed fighting along the border.  

Another diplomat blamed the crisis on “Larsen’s disastrous personal diplomacy.”  

“This isn’t true diplomacy. It has become personal. The Lebanese have some shortcomings in their stance but they don’t deserve this treatment,” he said.  

The diplomat added that the problem stemmed from “one man’s ego (Larsen) and another man’s travel plans (Annan).”  

“Annan has been working hard to push this through the Security Council so that he wouldn’t have to change his travel plans to the Middle East,” the diplomat said.  

Larsen who wields considerable influence with Annan has not won the support of all UN officials in New York, many of whom have privately questioned the special envoy’s Lebanon policy.  

According to one diplomatic source in New York, Larsen has engineered a “palace coup” by completely marginalizing the department of peacekeeping operations, said the daily.  

Officials from the department were “stunned” during Friday’s news conference when Larsen “broke all UN traditions” by speaking about UNIFIL’s strength, tactics and deployment, subjects that “he knows nothing about,” the diplomat were quoted as saying.  

The Daily Star said it has learned that the next step will be to appoint a UN coordinator for Lebanon who will keep an eye on the Lebanese government and UNIFIL and report directly to Larsen in New York. This new post will be “sold” to the government as a vehicle to generate more funds for Lebanon from international donors.  

But the reality behind the move is to neutralize the peacekeeping department’s authority over UNIFIL, placing it firmly in the hands of Larsen, who will then be in a position “to keep the heat on Lebanon.” – Albawaba.com 

 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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