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West Asia visit: UN team has mixed feelings

The reason for the mixed feelings of the UN team is the UN-brokered cessation of hostilities so far held.

india Updated: Aug 23, 2006 11:51 IST

Ending its regional diplomacy on Tuesday after meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, a high-level UN delegation that had also met Lebanese leaders over the weekend, said there were reasons for both optimism and pessimism over the past few days of talks.

According to sources in United Nations, the reason for the mixed feelings is UN-brokered cessation of hostilities so far held. But there still exists a worrying power vacuum in southern Lebanon.

The team was led by Vijay K Nambiar, a former envoy of India to the United Nations. Nambiar is currently the special political adviser to the Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Upon arriving in Israel on Sunday night, the delegation met Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday in Jerusalem to discuss all aspects of the UN-backed resolution that led to last week's cessation of hostilities with Hezbollah. On Monday, the delegation, which also includes UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, held talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, according to information available at UN headquarters in New York.

"The mission has reasons for both optimism and pessimism. Our optimism is predominately grounded on the fact that, by and large, the ceasefire so far has been honoured," Roed-Larsen told reporters before the delegation left Israel for Europe to brief the UN chief on the details of its meetings.

"The reason for pessimism is that until there is a capable and fully deployed Lebanese force along the borders, and in southern Lebanon, and until there is implementation of a full reconfiguration and deployment of an international force there will —up to a point, and I emphasise —remain a security vacuum in Lebanon," he added.

Roed-Larsen also said that the issue of the abducted Israeli soldiers had been raised by the delegation during all its meetings, as also had the issue of Israel lifting the embargo on Beirut's airport and later the full blockade.

Nambiar told reporters that there had also been 'considerable discussions' on the question of enhancing the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which currently stands at 2,000 strong, but which resolution 1701 calls to be increased to a maximum of 15,000 members.

"We are hoping that in the course of the coming days, particularly at the forthcoming meeting in Brussels of the European Union that there will be some concrete indications of enhanced offerings from the European countries for this force," he said.

The Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1701 on August 11, in which it called for an immediate cessation of hostilities—which went into effect on August 14, the deployment of Lebanese troops, the significantly expanded UN peacekeeping presence across southern Lebanon as well as the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the area.

Meanwhile, new rules of engagement for UN troops in Lebanon allow UNIFIL members to fire in self-defence and use force to rescue civilians from militias and other illegal outfits.

The rules, already submitted to possible troop contributors, have been widely accepted, according to Nambiar.

"We've not received any major requests for any change," Nambiar said. "We assume that we will be able to finalise them imminently."

The 1978 established UNIFIL also had the right of self-defence, but it was mainly an observer mission.