You know that France has strongly deplored the incidents which occurred on 29 June, 3 and 4 July because these incidents have given rise to incomprehension and concern.
That is the reason why France has asked to hold a special meeting of the Security Council and asked for a firm reaction from the members of the Security Council. I think the Security Council, in delivering the clear statement that you have just heard, shows its support to the Lebanese authorities in the implementation of R. 1701 and to the UNIFIL implementation of the same resolution
We cannot accept the obstacles to the freedom of movement of UNIFIL. The freedom of movement must be complete.
Before answering your questions, I would like to make several points.
First, the movement of UNIFIL had been completely coordinated with the Lebanese Armed Forces which were informed. Actually, it has been coordinated several months ahead of this movement. The victims of these incidents were not only French forces. There were several nationalities of UNIFIL. There was only one accident when the patrol was blocked, when the patrol tried to move backwards, the patrol bumped into the motorcycles which were trying to prevent the patrol from moving. After that the patrol was chased by the motorcycles and brought to a dead end. The demonstrators tried to take the weapons of the patrol and it’s thanks to the Lebanese Armed Forces that we actually avoided a major incident.
In this context, we are welcoming the declaration of the Lebanese Council of Ministers to reaffirm its full support to UNIFIL, to reaffirm its full support to the freedom of movement of UNIFIL and also the decision to send more Lebanese soldiers in the South so we can ensure the security of the area.
Q : Do you deny that a couple of days before the incidents your troops, the French troops in particular, went to some farms in isolated villages in Southern Lebanon and destroyed tobacco farms ? Another thing, remember that in August 2006 there was a statement by the spokesperson of the UNIFIL saying that if we roll in with our tanks in South Lebanon we would antagonize inhabitants there ?
The first incident, I am not in position of denying, it is the first time that we are hearing that, actually, and nobody has raised this issue. I can look at this with your allegation. As for the second element it is very clear that during the movement of the manoeuvring of the force which led to the first incidents that the forces had instructions. According to the report that we have heard, first there was no camera, our forces didn’t have a camera, were not taking pictures, didn’t enter into any private property. The instructions were very clear and even before the manoeuvring, the force had engaged into outreach activities to inform the civilian population of the upcoming manoeuvring. This manoeuvring actually was supposed to take place in March so people had been informed for several months of this manoeuvring, so it was not a surprise.
Q : Why did the Lebanese army not take part in those exercises ?
It was coordinated with the Lebanese Armed Forces. Lebanese Armed Forces decided on their own not to take part in their manoeuvring. Ask them why they didn’t do it. I am not the spokesperson of the Lebanese Armed Forces. There was absolutely not objection coming from the Lebanese authorities to this manoeuvring, no objection whatsoever.
Q : Can I just clarify something please, what is France’s understanding of the mandate of UNIFIL. You can move as freely as you want without any coordination with the Lebanese army ?
Actually you have to read OP12 of resolution 1701 which authorizes UNIFIL to take all necessary measures to ensure the security and freedom of movement of United Nations personnel. The freedom of movement of UNIFIL is not limited whatsoever. When the UNIFIL is engaging in its activities, if you look at the resolution 1701, it is assisting the Lebanese Armed Forces, working with the Lebanese Armed Forces. When the force is implementing its mandate it is assisting the Lebanese Armed Forces. So when the force is implementing its mandate, it’s in cooperation, it’s assisting the Lebanese Armed Forces. But it doesn’t mean that the freedom of movement of the force is limited whatsoever. Here it was manoeuvring. When it’s patrolling, the force is patrolling on its own. It has total freedom of movement.
Q. Do you hold any party responsible for the incidents. Why couldn’t you wait until Wednesday when 1701 was going to be discussed ?
We don’t know. We have the impression that these incidents were not isolated. The report said they were not spontaneous. As for why we asked for it, it’s because we wanted to emphasise the seriousness of the situation. We are ready to discuss the wider context, because in 1701 there a lot of different topics, but we wanted to emphasise, from the Security Council point of view, the seriousness of these incidents. We don’t want to enter into a trend towards the limitation of the freedom of movement of UNIFIL. In a sense it was a wake up call, saying the Security Council is concerned.
Q. Is UNIFIL ready to search houses ?
Its means we are implementing the mandate as it is. We are not changing the mandate. We want to implement it as it is. There is no change. It’s because there is no change that we don’t want people to suddenly limit our freedom of movement. There is nothing new on our side. We have the impression that on the ground, something new was appearing and we wanted to say no.
Q. The Force commander of UNIFIL published an open letter (…).
As for working with civil society, with the Lebanese authorities, it’s up to the force commander to do it. It’s not easy to have a force living among the civilian population. We have to work together so as to avoid any misunderstanding. Here we don’t have an isolated incident. It was according to the report, not spontaneous. Thank you very much.