Exclusive: Misinformation distort our Lebanon mission - UNIFIL chief
In an exclusive interview for Al Mayadeen, the Head of Mission and Force Commander of the UNIFIL in Lebanon says his servicemembers seek to help local communities meet their basic needs amid the actual Lebanese crisis.
In an exclusive interview for Al Mayadeen, Major General Aroldo Lazaro Saenz of Spain - head of Mission and Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon - acknowledged that "UNIFIL is misunderstood" over its mandate in the country, due to misinformation campaigns that some have launched regarding the substantial aspects of UNIFIL's operations and mandate.
Lazaro affirmed that his servicemembers seek to help local communities meet their basic needs amid the actual Lebanese crisis.
Head of #UNIFIL mission, #Lebanon, Major General Aroldo Lazaro to #AlMayadeen: "We have a strong relationship with local communities, not only in relation to operational activities; what we do is support them in gaining access to basic services, now more than ever..." https://t.co/A9AWTR6gpS— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) February 23, 2023
"We communicate with local, community, and political leaders to deliver the message we carry," Lazaro said, adding that "there is no need to be concerned about UNIFIL, as our missions are independent and impartial, based on the international community's directives to serve Lebanon and the region."
Head of #UNIFIL mission, #Lebanon, Major General Aroldo Lazaro to #AlMayadeen: Mission's role is to document, monitor and report all violations. We are an impartial mission, and in this regard we treat all the same. We report the violations to the Security Council. https://t.co/rWSz0muBqJ— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) February 23, 2023
During the interview, the head of Mission and Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon shed light on the fact that the UN peacekeeping mission needs the help of local communities, the Lebanese army, and citizens, urging everyone to understand that "we respect everyone and we do not, in any way, seek to violate people's privacy,"
"We only seek to perform our duties," Lazaro stressed.
Head of #UNIFIL mission, #Lebanon, Major General Aroldo Lazaro to #AlMayadeen: Local communities must understand that we are here with all our respect...But we need to conduct our mission, and to conduct our mission we need to move...UNIFIL is impartial. https://t.co/HeSxAV311U— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) February 23, 2023
The Head of Mission and Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon expounded that "UN peacekeeping troops are trained to ease the level of tension in the event of an issue prevailing due to deliberate actions," stressing that escalation is never an option for them.
"If we are unable to ease the tension, we request the intervention of the Lebanese army," he further acknowledged.
He emphasized that [maintaining a good] relationship with local communities and the Lebanese army is considered "one of our objectives," calling on the local community to understand "our priorities, our role, and the text of Resolution 1701."
Al-Aqabiya incident: The investigation is still ongoing
Commenting on Al-Aqabiya incident, he called it a tragic incident and a crime against the peacekeeping mission that prompted an investigation by the Lebanese army, UNIFIL, and Ireland.
He further confirmed that UNIFIL cooperated with all the parties on the level of evidence, information, and how the investigation was conducted.
"We'll have to wait a little longer to present a clear image [about the incident], since the investigation is still ongoing, and what we want is for the inquiry to be accurate in order to bring all individuals responsible for the tragedy to justice and hold them accountable," he further stated.
On December 15, a UNIFIL vehicle was involved in a traffic accident at night in the town of Al-Aqabiya near Saida, after the townspeople protested against the patrol changing its usual route and passing through the town.
The incident resulted in the vehicle flipping on its side, which led to the injury of 4 UNIFIL members, who were taken to Hammoud Hospital in Saida.
Following the incident, UNIFIL announced in a statement the death of one of its members and the injury of others.
In another context, the UNIFIL chief pointed out that the expansion of Resolution 1701, as stated in Resolution No. 2650, "does not, in fact, introduce any actual amendment to the mission of UNIFIL."
He added, "Since the inception of Resolution 1701, UNIFIL forces have maintained freedom of movement in the activities they conduct, but in coordination with the Lebanese army," pointing out that they conduct "approximately 450 activities per day, 20% of which are conducted jointly with the army."
In this context, he stressed that the aim is to maintain a "strong relationship with our strategic partner, the Lebanese army."
It is worth noting that the statement issued by the United Nations last September regarding the extension of UNIFIL's mandate stipulates that UNIFIL does not need prior authorization or permission from anyone to carry out the tasks assigned to it and that it is allowed to conduct its operations independently.
Read more: Who benefits from UNIFIL's new amendments to its mission in Lebanon?