Annan Warns Lebanon to Honor Cease-Fire

In the midst of a tour of the Middle East, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan warned officials in Lebanon that they must honor the cease-fire agreement with Israel. Rami Khouri, editor-at-large of the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star, talks with Alex Chadwick about Annan's trip and the status of the U.N. cease-fire resolution.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, Host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

The United Nations is struggling to have a major voice in the Middle East. The U.N. has been largely shut out of Middle East politics since the war in Iraq. So it was a major success when Secretary General Kofi Annan helped broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon two weeks ago.

As many as 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers are to be stationed in southern Lebanon. Kofi Annan is in the region today trying to resolve two major problems: the return of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers and an end to the Israeli blockade of Lebanon.

I'm joined from Beirut by Rami Khouri. He's editor-at-large of the Daily Star, an English language newspaper. And welcome to the program.

Mr. RAMI KHOURI (Editor-at-large, Daily Star): Thank you. Glad to be with you.

MONTAGNE: Now, Kofi Annan - as I just mentioned - is fighting to make the U.N. relevant to the crisis in the Middle East, but when he visited a heavily-bombed Hezbollah neighborhood in southern Beirut yesterday, he was booed. So, does that indicate that the U.N. doesn't have as much credibility in the eyes of the Lebanese people as Kofi Annan would like?

Mr. KHOURI: Not fully. It mainly indicates that the people are really angry that the U.N. took so long to pass the resolution and allowed the United States in particular and Israel in the background to delay the cease-fire resolution so that Israel could keep bombing Lebanon for, you know, another two, three weeks. That's really the main reason why people are upset.

They took the U.N. as a symbol of the global American/Israeli-led willingness to let the Israel bombed Lebanon at mercy for many, many weeks, even though the U.N. is not an independent actor. I mean, it's the mirror of the international community's collective will, but still, he was the symbol and that's why he got that treatment.

MONTAGNE: I see. Well, U.N. peacekeepers have been in Lebanon for nearly 30 years, and they've been criticized for operating under weak U.N. mandates - as not having the military power necessary. This time around, do they have more military power?

Mr. KHOURI: They have more military power in their rules of engagement. They can shoot back and they can shoot at people who are doing bad things and aggressive things, whatever. They also are much bigger - they have about 15,000 people. And more important, I think, is the fact that they are to essentially accompany and help another 15,000 troops from the Lebanese army who have been sent down to the south for the first time in, I don't know, two and half decades or so.

And this is the important, I think, development - the reassertion of Lebanese central government sovereignty in the south accompanied by an expanded international force. That combination is very important.

MONTAGNE: Do you see this as the watershed moment for the U.N. in the Middle East?

Mr. KHOURI: Oh, absolutely. I think it is. It's not really, again, just for the U.N. as such. I mean, the U.N. is an institution that reflects the collective will or lack of will of its member countries. It's just the mirror of the world. But what it reflects, I think, is a common desire to really apply the rule of law - as reflected in say, U.N. resolutions - to apply the rule of law as an equitable means of solving these problems that gave rise to the repeated clashes between the various groups in Lebanon and Israel. Because it's been, you know, Hezbollah now, but before that it was some of the nationalists and progressive groups. And before that, it was some of the Palestinian groups and the PLO in Lebanon.

So there's all kinds of people in Lebanon who've been with fighting with Israel for about 40 years now. And to solve those underlying problems, you need to really apply the law and you need to apply it fairly and consistently to both sides. That's the real significance, I think, of Kofi Annan's visit. It is being applied, the cease-fire is holding and they're moving progressively to tackle the tougher issues like the prisoner exchange and occupied land.

MONTAGNE: Rami Khouri is editor-at-large of the Daily Star. He joined us at Beirut. Thank you.

Mr. KHOURI: My pleasure.

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