Friday, January 11, 2008

Libyan Envoy Sparks Criticism at Security Council

BENNY AVNI - Staff Reporter of the Sun
January 10, 2008

UNITED NATIONS—Libya stopped the Security Council from criticizing Sudan yesterday and prevented the condemnation of a rocket attack against Israel, sparking criticism of the North African nation's ability to function as a responsible member of the U.N.'s most important body. According to two senior Western diplomats, the Libyan ambassador to the United Nations, Giadalla Ettalhi, resisted in closed-door negotiations the adoption of a statement publicly criticizing Libya's ally, Sudan, and condemning an attack against Israel. Mr. Ettalhi, the diplomats said, must have been "well aware" that it would be expected to do this as one of his first acts as president of the Security Council.

Asked about the issue, Mr. Ettalhi, citing diplomatic protocol, said he would not comment on internal council consultations.

Libya assumed a temporary seat on the 15-member council on January 1, wherein Mr. Ettalhi immediately became its rotating president. After council statements are agreed upon, they are customarily read by the U.N. body's president in front of television cameras, and they are widely available.

Yesterday's disagreement came after the U.N. undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, briefed the council, accusing Sudan of obstructing the deployment of a joint U.N.-African Union force in Darfur to protect civilians subjected to atrocities, which America has defined as genocide. Mr. Guéhenno also said member states were slow in contributing troops and material to the force. Sweden and Norway announced yesterday that they would not send 400 troops to join the force. Mr. Guéhenno also told the council that a local Sudanese army commander had made a phone call to U.N. officials, confirming that his troops were responsible for an armed attack against a U.N. convoy in Darfur on Monday. Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, however, told The New York Sun yesterday that the phone call could have been faked. He denied Sudan's involvement in the attack, placing the blame instead on rebel leaders and troops of the armed forces of neighboring Chad.

Separately, Mr. Guéhenno detailed to the council events surrounding the firing of two rockets Tuesday on the Israeli town of Shlomi, near the border with Lebanon. Because of a thunderstorm, Mr. Guéhenno told reporters that the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon — the largest U.N. peacekeeping operation — was unable to detect the firing of the rockets. After two days of hand-wringing, a U.N. spokesman released a statement last night that read: "If it is determined that there was firing from within Lebanon, the incident would be a serious violation" of the Security Council resolution that ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

After the State Department yesterday announced a plan to introduce new arms sanctions against Sudan, America tried to sponsor a council statement condemning the attack on the U.N. force in Darfur. But China, Russia, and Libya resisted any reference to Sudan's complicity in the attack. Libya was the only member later that resisted a separate, French-proposed statement that would have "strongly condemned" the rocket attack against Israel.

"If a country today asked the Security Council not to condemn anymore any attacks against Israel, then we will have a problem," the French U.N. ambassador, Jean-Maurice Ripert, said. "It will be a setback." He added that the proposed statement on Lebanon was "balanced."

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