UN team visits Lebanon-Syria border

Peacekeepers arrive at Masnaa border point and speak to customs and immigration officials about arms smuggling.

A UN team visited a major border crossing point with Syria Saturday and spoke to customs and immigration officials amid reports of arms smuggling between the two countries, security officials said. The visit to the Masnaa border point in the eastern Bekaa Valley came weeks after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called on Syria to work with Lebanon to prevent cross-border arms smuggling. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said the UN team arrived in several vehicles amid tight security and spent more than an hour in Masnaa. Weapons transfers to Hizbullah are banned under a UN resolution that ended last summer's war between Israel and the group, which is backed by Iran and Syria. Ban warned during his Lebanon visit two months ago that arms smuggling across the Syria-Lebanon border threatened the Aug. 14 cease-fire. The officials said members of the UN team chatted with customs and immigration officials at the border point, staying away from journalists and refusing to make any statements. The team also met with Bekaa's governor Antoine Suleiman, the officials said. The UN Security Council has authorized an independent mission to be deployed quickly to assess how the frontier is being monitored, but Syria has threatened to close the boundary with Lebanon, effectively choking the country economically, if such a mission is deployed. Ban said in April that the Syrian government "seems to be not yet ready to receive any assessment team to their border." The visit comes days after the UN Security Council voted to establish an international tribunal to prosecute suspects in the assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Many Lebanese have accused Syria of being behind the Feb. 14, 2005, assassination, a claim Syria denies.