|WHO'S IN CHARGE OF WHOM? SECURITY CONCERNS IN BEIRUT U.N. HOUSE
9 September 2005
More involvement by a limited number of U.N. officials in Lebanese politics means more security concerns
for the bulk of U.N. staff in Lebanon. The joint U.N. House is centrally located in the rebuilt downtown
area. That's very useful in ordinary conditions. But anyone riding a "service" taxi (a cab shared by five
passengers) will be able to throw a stone, picket outside its entrance, and insist on sending a petition
to the Secretary General or the Security Council. Most of the U.N. work is in social and economic
development, mainly through the regional commission ESCWA, and programs like the UNDP and UNICEF.
Visits by special envoys have been managed generally well without causing much difficulty. Problems
arose recently because of political posturing by one or two staffers who seem to feel entitled to
brazenly indulge in local politics. Clearly, they feel unaccountable to anyone, as no one in New York seems
to be aware of what exactly they are saying and the negative impact on others.
The Executive Secretary of ESCWA has reported her concerns repeatedly to Headquarters, particularly
after having to build a temporary barrier on one side of the building. The new U.N. Chief of Security,
Sir David Vaness,
has already made two visits to Beirut and discussed the problem at length. A consensus view among staff
there is that he is thoughtfully understanding and making every effort to help. The problem lies with
political freelancing characters. The reference is usually to three or four younger ambitious staffers
in Beirut and New York
known as the "Larsen boys" -- that is, those who receive directives from Terje Roed Larsen, who seems
determined on playing a very openly active role in Lebanese politics. That concern was compounded
early September when Arab media "oracle" Mohammed Hassanein Haikal, former Chief Editor of Cairo's
Al Ahram told Al-Jazeera TV that Larsen was a proxy for Israeli former Prime Minister Shimon
During a recent Lebanese cabinet meeting, the Foreign Minister had to raise the question of the U.N.
compound -- whether to remain in central Beirut or move to a better protected suburban location. Already
special investigator Detlev Mehlis has selected separate offices in the hilly neighbourhood of Monteverde,
after an initial stay at a beach resort hotel. Judge Mehlis has been meticulously correct in his public
appearances and extra careful to distinguish his mandated work. If anything, he regained some stature
and credibility to the U.N. through his professional handling of his investigation. The problem lies
elsewhere. The host government pays $8 1/2 million yearly to
Solidaire, a real estate company charged with rebuilding central Beirut controlled by recently
murdered former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri who, when taking over the government in the mid-nineties,
made a special effort to accommodate the housing arrangement. That conformed with a trend at Headquarters to
have unified U.N. presence in all host countries.
The Foreign Minister, while realizing the problem, had to request a three-year
extension of the lease. The pressing problem is that of security. The majority of staff would wish
those determined on displaying their political freelancing skills would find offices elsewhere. Otherwise,
they will make a huge campaign
to move out. Meanwhile, there is no one in New York interested. And no one in Beirut seems to know
who's in charge of whom.