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        General Assembly
9 May 2000

Original: ENGLISH

Fifth Committee

Summary record of the 61st meeting
Held at Headquarters, New York, on Tuesday, 9 May 2000, at 10 a.m.

Chairman:Ms. Wensley...........................................................
Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative
and Budgetary Questions: Mr. Mselle


Agenda item 128: Financing of the United Nations peacekeeping forces in the Middle East (continued)

(a) United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (continued)

(b) United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (continued)

Agenda item 133: Financing of the United Nations Protection Force, the United Nations Confidence Restoration Operation in Croatia, the United Nations Preventive Deployment Force and the United Nations Peace Forces headquarters (continued)

Agenda item 121: Programme budget for the biennium 2000-2001 (continued)

Programme budget implications of draft resolution A/54/L.83/Rev. 1 concerning agenda items 49 (b) and 121

The meeting was called to order at 10.10 a.m.

Agenda item 128: Financing of the United Nations peacekeeping forces in the Middle East (continued)

(a) United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (continued) (A/54/707 and Corr.1, A/54/732 and A/54/841 and Add.1)

(b) United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (continued) (A/54/708, A/54/724 and A/54/841 and Add.2)

1. Mr. Diab (Lebanon), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, expressed his profound regret and dismay at Israel’s failure, despite the repeated efforts of the Secretary-General, to comply with General Assembly resolution 53/227, pursuant to which it was required to pay the amount of $1,284,633 resulting from the incident at Qana on 18 April 1996. As it was essential to avoid setting any precedent, Israel should be made to bear the consequences of its deliberate attack, in which 102 civilians had been killed. He therefore urged renewed adoption of the resolution holding Israel responsible for the costs resulting from the Qana incident and also requested the Secretary-General to take strict additional measures to ensure Israel’s compliance with the resolution. The current report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (A/54/724) departed from the previous reports in that it omitted to state the details of those costs. It was vital, however, to attach the necessary importance to such details by continuing to list them under a separate item of the report.

2. Mr. Nakkari (Syrian Arab Republic) welcomed the fact that some of the concerns expressed in General Assembly resolution 53/226 on the financing of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) had been addressed, particularly in regard to expediting the process of improving the working conditions of the local staff in the Force. The Department of Peace-keeping Operations and the Office of Human Resources Management should nevertheless devote more attention to important outstanding issues with a view to achieving parity between local and international staff. Bearing in mind, for instance, that the provision of good working conditions was central to the success of UNDOF, he failed to understand why local staff were excluded from the hardship allowance received by international staff, particularly when they both enjoyed the same privileges and immunities. Moreover, the fact that the mission was considered to be in a high-risk area had not been taken into consideration.

3. Numerous pieces of administrative and logistical equipment still required upgrading and only one break facility had been provided for all local staff. The offices had not yet been air-conditioned, despite the approaching summer heat. He also failed to understand why local staff had internal e-mail access only, particularly since the Syrian Arab Republic was connected to the Internet, the use of which was encouraged by the United Nations.

4. General Assembly resolution 53/226 requested the continuation of efforts to employ local staff for the Force against General Service posts. He noted, however, that a conversion of General Service staff posts into local staff posts had yet again been deemed impossible for operational reasons, despite the requirement stated in the Secretary-General’s report on UNDOF (A/54/732) for a new General Service post. As for temporary duty assignment, the fact that local staff did not often benefit from it should be taken into account when they applied for such assignment, bearing in mind the principle of mobility, which was a major aspect of the work of United Nations staff. Finally, he requested the same entitlements, without distinction, for local staff as for staff of other missions.

5. Mr. Wharton (United States of America) said that, while the United States strongly supported the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which was implementing a difficult but important mandate, the use of funding resolutions of the General Assembly to pursue claims against a Member State was not procedurally correct. The United States had therefore voted against Assembly resolutions 53/227, 52/237 and 51/233, since they provided that Israel should pay costs stemming from the Qana incident. Those resolutions had not been adopted by consensus.

6. The procedure that had long been followed was for the Secretary-General to present and pursue the settlement of the Organization’s claims against a State or States. Using a funding resolution to legislate a settlement was inappropriate and should be avoided. His delegation would work in good faith to find a compromise that would neither set an undesirable precedent nor politicize the important technical tasks which had been assigned to the Fifth Committee. It could not, however, accept any amendments that referred to the Qana incident and the assessment of costs to Israel under the terms of General Assembly resolutions which the United States had opposed in the past.

7. Mr. Adam (Israel) noted that once again two delegations were engaged in the annual ritual of using the general debate on a peacekeeping operation to carry out a political attack. His delegation refused to be drawn into a political discussion, but wished to clarify the circumstances under which the unfortunate incident had occurred at Qana.

8. A Hizbullah terrorist organization had deliberately set up its ammunition base some 300 metres from the United Nations camp at Qana in order to draw fire towards Lebanese civilians living in the camp and possibly inflict damage on the property of UNIFIL. Israel had officially warned the United Nations of that dangerous situation but had failed to secure the removal of the Hizbullah base. After fortifying themselves in the base, Hizbullah members had fired dozens of Katyusha rockets on towns and villages in northern Israel, which, as was the right of all sovereign States, could not and would not tolerate bombs falling on its territory and stand by while its people were being killed. After three consecutive days of Hizbullah bombing from the base and numerous warnings from Israel, including by Prime Minister Peres himself, the Israel Defence Forces had been forced to put a stop to the firing and root out its source, namely the Hizbullah base.

9. He wished to reiterate that Israel had not been aware of the presence of Lebanese civilians within the compound of the United Nations camp at Qana and deeply regretted the loss of innocent life that had resulted, accidentally, from the crossfire which Hizbullah had started and for which it bore full responsibility. United Nations peacekeeping operations had incurred damage everywhere they had been deployed as a result of armed conflict between States and parties. That was the risk that Member States took upon themselves by sending soldiers, policemen and civilians and by building bases and camps for the forces.

10. The decision to make Israel alone liable for the cost of the damage resulting from the Qana incident was a one-sided political initiative by the General Assembly of a kind never previously directed against any other Member State involved in a conflict in which peacekeeping forces were deployed.

11. With regard to current developments, Israel had decided to withdraw its forces from Lebanon by July 2000, ideally within the framework of a peace agreement with the Syrian Arab Republic and Lebanon, which it had been actively seeking. Thus far, its efforts had not been reciprocated. In any event, the withdrawal was officially set to take place and the Foreign Minister of Israel had officially informed the United Nations that Israel’s withdrawal was in full accordance with Security Council resolutions 425 (1978) and 426 (1978). Israel intended to cooperate fully with the United Nations in the implementation of its decisions and would do its utmost to assist the Organization in the performance of the other tasks encompassed by the above-mentioned resolutions, including the restoration of international peace and security.

12. Mr. Hassan (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, supported the mandate of UNIFIL and the draft resolution on the financing of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon with the amendments that had been proposed. The Group of 77 and China were deeply concerned that the Committee was forced yet again to adopt provisions similar to those it had adopted for the past three years. The Secretary-General should take the necessary measures to ensure the implementation of the previous General Assembly resolutions and report thereon to the Assembly at its fifty-fifth session.

13. Mr. Diab (Lebanon) said it was sad to note that Israel had been ready to spend millions of dollars to violate the sanctity of a United Nations post and to kill more than 100 Lebanese civilians, the majority of whom were women, children and the elderly, while it now refused to pay the amount which the General Assembly had mandated in resolutions 51/233, 52/237 and 53/227.

14. Israel had again chosen to draw the Committee into a political debate which was not within its mandate, but the bottom line was that the financial burden which the members of the Committee had collectively borne for each of the previous 22 years had been created by the Israeli occupation of Lebanon and by that State’s refusal to implement Security Council resolution 425 (1978), which called upon Israel to withdraw completely and unconditionally from Lebanon to the internationally recognized borders.

15. The mandate of UNIFIL was to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces, to restore international peace and security and to assist the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area of operations. Israel’s refusal to withdraw from Lebanon, however, had prevented UNIFIL from implementing any part of that mandate and, as a result, the Force’s task had been reduced to simply ensuring the peaceful character of its area of operations or, more precisely, of that part of the area which was not under Israeli occupation. In doing so, UNIFIL also afforded a measure of protection to the civilian population.

16. While Lebanon was firmly committed to the principle of collective responsibility, a precedent should not be created whereby a State could commit aggression against an active United Nations duty station, obstruct its mission and kill civilians seeking refuge there and then have Member States assume the costs of the damage. Lebanon’s position was that the aggressor State should assume full responsibility for its acts of aggression, especially since that aggression had been deliberate and directed against the United Nations.

17. The fact that Israel was ignoring General Assembly resolutions was a clear indication of its persistence in politicizing the issue and should not go unpunished. The very credibility of the United Nations and of the Fifth Committee in particular required that General Assembly resolutions be implemented.

18. Mr. Nakkari (Syrian Arab Republic), speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that he associated himself with the statement of the Lebanese representative. Israel had attempted in vain to justify its attack on the headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on each occasion that it was discussed in the Committee. In persistently disregarding the will of the international community, Israel provided further evidence of its systematic policy of practising international terrorism, which, in 1996, had affected not only Lebanese Arab citizens, but also the entire international community represented in the UNIFIL presence. In view of its attack on that presence, Israel’s claim that it supported peace-keeping operations was laughable, as was its claim to the right to defend itself anywhere in the world while denying that same right to the Lebanese in defence of their territory, dignity and people.

19. He was astounded that the Israeli troops had shelled the UNIFIL base in Qana when, according to the representative of Israel, they had been aware of a military presence near Qana. The Israeli aggression still continued unabated and shell attacks such as those which had occurred at daybreak on 4 and 5 May were frequent. If Israel was serious in its claims, it should implement fully and without condition the Security Council resolutions calling for its immediate withdrawal from southern Lebanon, as well as Security Council resolution 425 (1978).

20. Mr. Adam (Israel) said with regard to the current situation in Lebanon that Israel had decided to withdraw from Lebanon by July 2000 as part of a broader peace agreement. Even though its initiative had not been reciprocated by the other sides, his Government had officially informed the Secretary-General of its intention. Its withdrawal would be in full accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations and Israel would fully cooperate with the United Nations on the ground as well as in the other tasks of the Organization, including the restoration of international peace and security. He hoped that, instead of the annual ritual of the current debate, the Syrian Arab Republic and Lebanon would sit down with Israel at the negotiating table to seriously consider the proposals that had been made for peace in the region.

21. Mr. Diab (Lebanon), speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that Israel could avoid engaging the Committee in political discussions that were beyond its remit by paying the amounts which it owed. The Arab countries had expressed their firm support for Lebanon and its request for Israel to implement fully Security Council resolutions 425 (1978) and 426 (1978) with a view to the full and unconditional Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory to behind the recognized international borders, which was a prerequisite for the success of the peace process. They had also affirmed the right of Lebanon to compensation for the enormous damage inflicted on its people and the infrastructure as a result of the repeated Israeli attacks against it.

22. He stressed that the United Nations should assume its responsibilities in connection with those two resolutions by ensuring that UNIFIL fulfilled its security functions. Israel would then have no pretext for holding Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic responsible for any security incident that might threaten security, peace and stability in the region.

23. The words of the Israeli Prime Minister concerning respect for Lebanese airspace failed to ring true, preceded as they were by the firing of Israeli missiles on civilians, including women and children, in Lebanese villages. As in the case of the massacres in Qana and elsewhere, such action had then been described as a mistake, a word which applied to the whole of Israel’s history with Lebanon.

24. Having emphasized the need for caution and for the implementation of Security Council resolution 425 (1978), he stated his country’s refusal to perform the role of guarding the Israeli borders and called on Israel to enter into a just and comprehensive agreement that would guarantee peace for all the countries in the region.

25. Mr. Nakkari (Syrian Arab Republic), speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that it was not the first claim of withdrawal from southern Lebanon to be made by Israel; in 1999, it had made an identical claim, but nothing had changed since. The international community was therefore unable to credit such claims unless they were supported by action. He was extremely surprised by the Israeli representative’s statement that his country wished to achieve peace, as if the mere declaration of a wish would bring about peace without fulfilment of the necessary conditions and requirements stipulated in Security Council resolutions 338 (1973) and 242 (1968), and in the Madrid terms of reference. Only when those conditions and requirements were fulfilled would Israel’s words be taken seriously.

26. Mr. Persaud (Field Administration and Logistics Division, Department of Peacekeeping Operations), replying to the questions posed by the representative of the Syrian Arab Republic, said that conditions of service and local staff were the subject of an ongoing dialogue within the UNDOF staff-management committee and had already resulted in many improvements. With regard to air conditioning, the electrical facilities needed to be upgraded in order to accommodate the additional power load. Some of the work had been completed; work on the remaining buildings, which housed both international and local staff, including military staff, would be completed by mid-June. The mission’s communication facilities also had to be upgraded in order to provide internal e-mail to local and international staff. All staff members were expected to have international e-mail services by some time in July.

27. The replacement of international civil servants by local staff in UNDOF was not practical in view of the functions that had to be carried out. Efforts were being made to reassign local staff to other peacekeeping missions without disrupting the activities of the releasing missions.

28. On the basis of a Fifth Committee decision, his department had requested the Office of Human Resources Management to consult the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) concerning additional hardship allowances for local staff transferred from Damascus. Technically, hardship allowances were approved for certain types of appointments and granted only to expatriates; however, the issue would be addressed in the coming months.


The meeting rose at 1.15 p.m.

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