US envoy Haley rips UN troop commander in Lebanon

#Diplomacy

Ambassador says UN should take harder line against Hezbollah, claims force leader 'blind' to arms smuggling

General Michael Beary defends his forces against US criticism, praising them for maintaining peace (AFP)
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The United States blasted the commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon on Friday, accusing him of turning a blind eye to Hezbollah weapons smuggling.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley said the 10,500-strong UNIFIL force was "not doing its job effectively" and singled out its Irish leader, Major General Michael Beary.

"General Beary says there are no Hezbollah weapons," Haley told reporters, accusing him of ignoring Hezbollah's arms dumps.

"He seems to be the only person in south Lebanon who is blind. That's an embarrassing lack of understanding on what's going on around him."

The peacekeeping force’s mission was expanded by UN Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006.

The UN-backed ceasefire agreement increased the number of UNIFIL troops from 2,000 to more than 10,000. The resolution also called for a buffer zone free of "any armed personnel" south of Lebanon's Litani River, about 20 kilometres from the Israeli border.

Beary has defended UNIFIL against criticism from Washington, praising his forces for maintaining the peace and thwarting misunderstandings over the past 11 years.

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"We should not be looking to upset that," he told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Asked about Haley's sharp criticism of Beary, United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: "We have full confidence in his work."

Beary, who was appointed head of UNIFIL last year, has been praised by the UN for his "distinguished" military career. Besides Lebanon, the Irish general has served in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Uganda and Somalia.

Haley was speaking at UN headquarters as member states debate the future of UNIFIL, which is deployed to keep the peace on Lebanon's southern border with Israel.

The existing mandate, last modified in 2006, expires at the end of this month, and the US would like to see its language toughened.

Washington wants the UN force to take a harder line on Hezbollah.

Israel alleges that Hezbollah is restocking its arms dumps and missile batteries in southern Lebanon, under the eyes of Blue Helmet peacekeepers.

"Since 2006, there has been a massive flow of illegal weapons to Hezbollah, mostly smuggled in by Iran," Haley said.

"They openly threaten Israel. Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation that is very destabilizing to the region."

Haley said the mandate obliges UNIFIL to work with the Lebanese armed Forces to disarm illegal groups and that she would seek to underline this in the renewal.

Still, US ally France, which contributes 800 troops to UNIFIL, wants the mandate to be renewed in its current format.

"UNIFIL plays a decisive role to stabilise the south of Lebanon in a very difficult original context, and it has demonstrated a stabilising effect in the volatile, complex and troubled environment," Anne Gueguen, France's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, said on Thursday.