UN chief meets rival Lebanese leaders

Ban calls for implementation of UNSC resolution between Hizbullah, Israel.

March 30, 2007 16:34
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The UN chief on Friday called for the full implementation of a UN Security Council resolution that ended last summer's war between Hizbullah and Israel. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also urged rival Lebanese leaders to engage in dialogue as the only way to end a deepening political crisis and approve an international court to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He met separately with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a major figure in the opposition, and with Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, who is backed by the parliamentary majority. "I raised the importance of the full implementation of that resolution," Ban told reporters after his talks with Berri, who is a close ally of Hizbullah. The UN chief arrived Thursday in Beirut from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he attended a summit of Arab leaders. His tour of the Middle East has already taken him to Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories. The US-backed Saniora government has been locked in a bitter dispute with the Hizbullah-led opposition seeking to topple it. The opposition is demanding a national unity government that would give it a veto-wielding share in Cabinet and has been holding protests and an open sit-in in downtown Beirut since Dec. 1 to pressure Saniora into resigning. Saniora has staunchly refused, accusing the opposition of staging a coup upon orders from Iran and Syria, Hizbullah's main patrons. Nine people have died in sectarian street violence which erupted on two occasions since December. Ban encouraged Lebanese leaders to engage in a dialogue to end the political standoff. "I believe, and everybody believes, that dialogue is the only way for Lebanon to achieve the stability and national unity it aspires for," Ban said. While stressing his commitment to the formation of the Hariri tribunal "as soon as possible," he said the Lebanese should reach consensus on this issue. "I urged the parties to find a quick solution to this issue while respecting Lebanon's constitutional procedures," he said. Ban met later with legislator Saad Hariri, son of the slain leader, to discuss the formation of the international tribunal. Hariri, who heads the anti-Syrian majority in Parliament, said the tribunal was necessary to prevent further killings in Lebanon. "The failure to punish the criminals is tantamount to giving a killer a license to kill," Hariri told reporters after meeting Ban. "Therefore, the United Nations is seriously following up the issue of the international tribunal."

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