UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council on Monday backed Lebanon’s efforts to end the country’s economic crisis and tackle other challenges including the impact of COVID-19 and called on the international community to help.
The U.N.’s most powerful body took note in a statement after a closed meeting of the “urgent need for the Lebanese authorities to respond to the aspirations of the Lebanese people by implementing meaningful economic reforms” and addressing security, humanitarian and COVID-19 challenges.
Lebanon, one of the most indebted nations in the world, defaulted for the first time in March on its sovereign debt. Anti-government protests that erupted in October subsided during a nationwide lock-down since mid-March to blunt the spread of the coronavirus. Those restrictions are starting to ease.
Last Thursday, the prime minister said he will seek a rescue program from the International Monetary Fund, but protesters rallied again Friday, criticizing the government’s handling of the unprecedented crisis that saw the local currency crash, people’s savings devastated, and prices and inflation soar.
The Security Council was meeting to discuss implementation of a 2004 resolution that called for the Lebanese government to extend its authority throughout the country and all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias to disband.
In a report to the council circulated Monday on the resolution’s implementation, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also addressed Lebanon’s current economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As the dire economic and financial situation in Lebanon is now compounded by the adverse impact of COVID-19 on the country’s economy, it is all the more urgent that the country’s leaders develop and implement the required reforms,” he said.
The U.N. chief stressed that “measures to prevent, limit and mitigate the impact of the pandemic have to be taken in parallel to the provision of financial and food support to the rapidly increasing numbers of the most vulnerable groups of the population facing dire poverty.”
Lebanon was engulfed in civil war from 1975-1990, and a U.N. peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL has been in Lebanon since 1978 after Israel invaded parts of southern Lebanon. Since then, there have been major wars in 1982 and in 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah militants which claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people on both sides.
The Security Council statement “recognized the additional challenges posed by the global COVID pandemic, also on the Lebanese economy, and commended the preventive measures taken by UNIFIL in that regard.”
Guterres’ report said Lebanon’s government continued efforts to extend the authority of the state throughout the country but Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias continue to operate outside government control in violation of the 2004 resolution and the Taif Accords that ended the country’s civil war.
“Several groups across the political spectrum in Lebanon possess weapons outside government control,” the U.N. chief said, and “Hezbollah is the most heavily armed militia in the country.”
Guterres said he continues to urge Lebanon’s government and armed forces “to take all measures necessary to prohibit Hezbollah and other armed groups from acquiring weapons and building paramilitary capacity outside the authority of the state.” He also urged countries with close times to Hezbollah “to encourage the transformation of the group into a solely civilian political party, as well as its disarmament.”
The secretary-general warned that Iranian-backed Hezbollah’s continued involvement in Syria where it supports President Bashar Assad’s government, “carries the risk of entangling Lebanon in regional conflicts and undermining the stability of Lebanon and the region.”
Guterres and the Security Council expressed concern at recent incidents across the U.N.-drawn Blue Line separating Lebanon and Israel.
Germany’s deputy U.N. ambassador Jürgen Schulz told the council that “Lebanon is facing an unprecedented challenge” to its political leadership and the country’s stability, according to the text of his statement to the closed meeting.
He said it was “very good” that the government has adopted a comprehensive economic reform plan and that the its response to the COVID-19 crisis “has been a major achievement in the last two months.”
“At the same time, many challenges remain and we continue to remain very worried that there is a real risk that the country could drift towards economic and financial collapse and see a prolonged political crisis,” Schulz said.