Speech of Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Stefano Del Col on UNIFIL Establishment Day
Dear friends from the Lebanese Armed Forces and Security Forces,
Fellow military and civilian peacekeepers,
Good morning. Today on UNIFIL Establishment Day, we mark 43 years since the establishment of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
At the time, I don’t think anyone expected UNIFIL would be here 43 years later, as the word “interim” in our name denotes. But as the last year has shown us, no one can ever predict what the future may bring. UNIFIL remains as committed as ever to peace and stability in south Lebanon. We will do this working alongside and in close coordination with our strategic partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces. We are here for as long as it takes.
Lebanon has faced many challenges in the past 43 years, but the current combination of socio-economic crisis and pandemic emergency is unprecedented. UNIFIL and its various contingents have worked especially hard in the last year to support local communities in building capacity, and in particular in stopping the spread of COVID-19.
We have done all of this, and we have continued to deliver on all aspects of our mandate, even as we face the pandemic challenge ourselves. Our essential duties have never stopped. We have had to adapt, following strict preventive health measures, which have included quarantines for newly-arrived peacekeepers. This has been hard for everyone. It means we have had to keep our UNIFIL Establishment Day ceremony very small today. But these measures help keep our colleagues and the local population safe.
One of our peacekeepers’ main roles has been as custodians of the Blue Line. In recent years, we have had incidents, and some have been serious. Our peacekeepers have been able to work with the parties to resolve them before they could escalate into conflict. This work is complex and delicate, but I am convinced that it has helped avoid immense human suffering. And this, above all, is why UNIFIL is here.
But our work has not come without sacrifice. Today, we recognize the exceptional efforts of all UNIFIL personnel – civilian and military, national and international – working long hours in sometimes arduous conditions to support the mandate. Today – every day, but especially today – we remember the 321 peacekeeping colleagues who lost their lives on duty, serving the cause of peace. And today, we recognize the commitment of the international community and the United Nations to Lebanon and its people, which is exemplified in the work we are able to do today.
When the tragic explosion happened in Beirut last August, our military and civilian peacekeepers immediately leapt into action. Nearly 150 peacekeepers cleared thousands of tons of debris in the city and at the port, assisting in the restoration of damaged heritage sites from further devastation, helping to open a main road and assisting in getting Beirut Harbour operational again. Several naval peacekeepers aboard a ship docked in the harbour suffered serious injuries. Many more narrowly escaped similar injuries, or worse. We stood with the people of Lebanon then, as we do now, and as we will continue to do.
As always, we will work towards our goal of a cessation of hostilities and a sustainable peace in south Lebanon. An important and practical part of this is to complete the marking of the Blue Line. Marking the remaining parts of the Blue Line will help avoid accidental and unnecessary provocations that could escalate into conflict. In the past, both sides have set aside their very real differences to engage constructively on this. Itis now time to finish the job. I’m calling on both parties to re-engage on marking the Blue Line, building on that past success and the recent framework agreement. And just as we have for the past 43 years, UNIFIL stands ready to help.
Before I conclude, I would like to offer my condolences to our Tanzanian peacekeepers on the passing of President Magufuli. Our thoughts are with you at this difficult time.
Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Stefano Del Col