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Ban Ki-moon urges Lebanon's leaders to seek national reconciliation through dialogue

30 March 2007 United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on Lebanon’s leaders to engage in dialogue to promote national reconciliation as he continued his first visit to the Middle East as the world’s top diplomat.

He also stressed the need for progress on the unresolved issue of the two Israeli soldiers seized by Hizbollah last July, leading to a 34-day war with Israel.

“I am disappointed there has not been proof of life of the two Israeli Soldiers. This is a humanitarian matter,” he told a news conference in Beirut after holding talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and his ministers.

Mr. Ban voiced disappointment that the country’s four-month political crisis involving an opposition walk-out from parliament and mass demonstrations has not been resolved. “One of my main messages here – to all Lebanese leaders I meet with – is that the path of dialogue and compromise has to be the way forward out of this impasse,” he said.

He delivered the same message earlier in the day to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. “I know that you are going through a very difficult process for national reconstruction,” he told reporters after the meeting. “The international community, the United Nations, and I, as Secretary-General will always be fully supportive of such efforts and I need also to see some improvements in that regard.”

While in Lebanon, Mr. Ban is scheduled to visit the enhanced UN peacekeeping mission sent to the country to monitor the cessation of hostilities after last year’s war between Israel and Hizbollah. The UN Interim Force (UNIFIL) is now close to its maximum strength of 15,000, with nearly 13,000 troops and sailors from some 30 countries patrolling on land and sea.

Since the adoption of Security Council resolution 1701 last August, the peacekeepers have played a key role in monitoring the Israeli withdrawal and in assisting the Lebanese army in deploying in southern Lebanon. UNIFIL also helped the army in establishing an area between the Blue Line, separating Lebanon and Israel, and the Litani River that is free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government and UNIFIL.

In addition to its core military mandate, UNIFIL de-miners have destroyed more than 25,000 explosive devices, including rockets, grenades, cluster bombs, anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. UNIFIL peacekeepers have continued to provide humanitarian aid to the local population, including medical and dental aid, providing several thousand free health checks and medicine from bases and mobile clinics.

UNIFIL, first created by the Security Council in 1978 to confirm an Israeli withdrawal from an earlier incursion, was greatly expanded in August following the latest conflict.

Mr. Ban also discussed “the Tribunal of an international character” to prosecute the suspected killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, on which the UN and Lebanon signed an agreement in February. At the time Mr. Ban voiced hope that the Government would ratify it in line with the country’s constitutional requirements.

“I welcome Lebanese national consensus on the tribunal but stress the importance of moving forward on this issue,” he said today. “I urged the parties to find a quick solution to this issue while respecting Lebanon’s constitutional procedures.”

Mr. Hariri’s murder is being investigated by the International Independent Investigation Commission, established by the Security Council in 2005 after an earlier UN mission found Lebanon’s own probe was seriously flawed and that Syria was primarily responsible for the political tensions that preceded the assassination.

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