U.N. chief calls for Hezbollah disarmament
April 21, 2008

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Monday for immediate presidential elections in Lebanon without foreign interference and told Syria and Iran they must support the disarmament of Hezbollah's well-armed militia.

Ban highlighted the mounting international concern over Lebanon's failure to fill the top post, left vacant after pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud stepped down last November. He also warned that Lebanon will not be a fully sovereign, democratic state until Hezbollah is disbanded.

The secretary-general's six-month report to the U.N. Security Council, obtained by The Associated Press, focused on implementation of a 2004 resolution that calls for presidential elections under the constitution and the disbanding of all militias.

"Parliament, which has not met in more than a year, must be allowed to convene urgently to fulfill its constitutional duties in order to elect a president...," Ban said. "A free and fair presidential election, without foreign interference or influence must take place immediately. The current situation is no longer sustainable."

Lebanon's sharply divided parliament has failed to elect Army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman as a consensus president because Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's pro-Western, anti-Syrian government and pro-Syrian opposition factions led by Hezbollah remain at loggerheads over power-sharing and the shape of the future Cabinet.

Another parliament session, meant to elect Suleiman as president, is due on Tuesday, but there have been 17 postponements since September, and there is no sign of a breakthrough. One stumbling block is the opposition's demand for veto power over future government decisions, which the parliamentary majority strongly rejects.

The secretary-general said he is concerned that further delay to elect a president "will complicate the adoption of an electoral law and the holding of Parliamentary elections on time, in spring 2009."

Ban urged all concerned states and parties to cooperate urgently with Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa to immediately implement a plan adopted by Arab foreign ministers in Cairo in January that called for Suleiman's election, formation of a national unity government and the adoption of a new electoral law.

In a report in late October, Ban drew attention to alleged breaches of the U.N. arms embargo and the transfer of sophisticated weapons from Iran and Syria — both strong backers of Hezbollah — across the Lebanon-Syria border. Both deny any breeches.

The secretary-general, in a March report, noted that Israel says Hezbollah is rearming and has an arsenal that includes 10,000 long-range rockets and 20,000 short-range rockets in southern Lebanon. Ban didn't confirm Israel's claim, but he reiterated his concern about reported breaches of the arms embargo and at "the threats of open war against Israel" by Hrezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

In Monday's report, the secretary-general said, "Hezbollah's maintenance of a paramilitary capacity poses a key challenge to the government's monopoly on the legitimate use of force."

"It is high time, 18 years after the end of the civil war, 8 years after the Israeli withdrawal, 3 years after the withdrawal of the Syrian troops, and 1 1/2 years after the war between Israel and Hezbollah, for all parties concerned, inside and outside of Lebanon, to set aside this remaining vestige of the past," he said.

He reiterated that disarming and disbanding all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias should be done through a political dialogue that addresses the political and economic interests of all Lebanese — and he called for a renewed commitment to the disarmament of militias, including Hezbollah, to fulfill the terms of the 2004 resolution.

"In this context, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which maintain close ties with the party, bear a significant responsibility in supporting such a process, for the sake of both Lebanon's and the wider region's security, stability and welfare," Ban said.

He also urged Syria and Lebanon to establish full diplomatic relations and mark their border, including the disputed Chebaa Farms area, which "would promote the normalization of relations between the two countries and constitute significant steps to secure peace and stability in the region."

Chebaa Farms was captured by Israel when its forces seized Syria's Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war. The U.N. determined that the area is Syrian, and that Syria and Israel should negotiate its fate. But Lebanon claims the Chebaa Farms — a claim backed by Syria — and Hezbollah continues to fight over the disputed land, arguing that Israel's occupation justifies its "resistance."

Original article: USA Today
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