Shellings dim peace hopes in south Lebanon
Beirut — The latest shelling of Lebanese Army troops in Qantara, southern Lebanon, by Maj. Saad Haddad's Israeli-supported Christian militia forces has set back plans to restore security to that volatile region.
Christian militia artillery fire on March 16 killed a Nigerian officer and a Nigerian soldier with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). It also wounded 20 other Nigerians, four Lebanese Army soldiers, and half a dozen civilians, a UN spokesman here said March 18.
The 30-man Lebanese platoon had been deployed in the village of Qantara onky days before, as part of UN plan to reintroduce Lebanese government authority into areas now under UNIFIL control. At the time, Major Haddad had warned the UNIFIL commander, Maj. Gen. William Callaghan, against deploying Lebanese regulars anywhere near hisborder strip.
Now, in the wake of the militia shelling, not only have the LEbanese troops moved back out of the village, but the Nigerians who have been there throughout have also been forced to redeploy.
The villagers are reported to have sought shelter in surrounding fields, while militiamen loyal to Major Haddad have put up a roadblock east of the village.
With the deterioration in the south (also mirrored by increased tension between opposing factions in Beirut), Lebanese Foreign Minister Fuad Boutros has issued a strong call for an effective UN Secretary Council statement decrying Major Haddad's latest actions.
"It is very important to get a declaration from the Security Council," the foreign minister said. "I think the strength of the Security Council and the power of its forces here in carrying out their important mandate depend to an extent on reaching an agreement at the council which is formalized in a statement."
General Callaghan, UNIFIL's Irish commander, is meanwhile taking his own steps to try to secure the success of his 6,000-man force's three-year-old mandate.
"UNIFIL will not be intimidated by such wanton and brutal acts," he told Irish troops.
On taking up his command a few weeks ago, General Callaghan stressed the importance of that part of UNIFIL's mandate which calls for increased Lebanese Army deployment throughout the UNIFIL area.
The Lebanese platoon which has now evacuated Qantara was only part of the existing 600-man Lebanese Army contingent which has been deployed in the UNIFIL zone since April 1979.
General Callaghan on March 18 met with the Israeli military leaders who provide a complete logistical back-up for Major Haddad's irregulars. He reportedly demanded that Israeli aid be stopped, and that Israeli units withdraw completely from Lebanese territory.
Israel promptly rejected the demand.