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UN Security Council Extends Mandate of Peacekeepers in Lebanon

The United Nations Security Council voted Friday to keep U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon for another year, as requested by the Lebanese government. From VOA's United Nation's bureau, Suzanne Presto reports.

Council members unanimously adopted the resolution to extend the peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, UNIFIL, through August 2008. The 13,000-strong force patrols the Lebanese-Israeli border area. It was strengthened after the conflict a year ago between Israel and the militant Shi'ite group, Hezbollah.

The resolution adopted Friday calls on all parties to cooperate fully with the U.N. to achieve a permanent ceasefire and also to respect the safety of U.N. troops and other personnel in Lebanon.

South African Ambassador to the U.N. Dumisani Kumalo says he is not entirely satisfied by the resolution because he feels it incorporates "selectively chosen" issues from other resolutions. "My delegation would have preferred to have had a resolution of a technical nature. There is no reason, Mr. President, to have included in the resolution unrelated sensitive issues which this Council has on numerous previous occasions commented on in different resolutions," he said.

Kumalo did not specify which issues he was referring to, but the resolution does mention two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah last year.

Israel's Ambassador to the U.N., Dan Gillerman, says that is one issue that must be addressed immediately. "First and foremost in our minds is the fate of our two boys, the two soldiers who were kidnapped by Hezbollah on July 12th last year. We have not received even a single sign of life from them. The resolution calls for their unconditional and immediate release and we urge the international community to do everything it can to make sure that happens," he said.

Gillerman says he believes the continued presence of UNIFIL is positive for both Lebanon and Israel.

Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Alejandro Wolff commended UNIFIL's efforts and the progress that has been made in southern Lebanon since last year. He said he welcomes UNIFIL's plans to increase coordination with the Lebanese military. He urged the two forces to quickly establish joint patrols and checkpoints to stop the flow of illicit weapons.

"The deadly June 24 attack against UNIFIL and the June 17 rocket attack against Israel demonstrate that there are unauthorized, armed elements and weapons in south Lebanon, and that they pose a danger both to regional stability and the safety of U.N. personnel," he said.

Earlier this month, the Council voiced "grave concern" about reports of weapons smuggling into Lebanon from neighboring countries.