UNITED NATIONS. WHERE IS VERBEKE -- THE NEW SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR LEBANON?

 

WHERE IS VERBEKE -- THE NEW SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR LEBANON?

15 JULY 2008

Shortly after arriving in Beirut, U.N. Special Representative in Lebanon Johan Verbeke dropped completely out of sight. He had already been delayed, leaving an embarrassing gap between Pedersen's departure in March and his arrival in June. In between there was a crucial conference in Doha, Qatar and the election of a new President. Although all accredited diplomats to Lebanon visited President Suleiman to congratulate him, the former Ambassador of Belgium to the U.N. who certainly knows the close link between his own country and Lebanon did not show up. His delay in New York was explained by the need to get further briefings and possibly preside over the Security Council -- to enhance his visibility -- during Belgium's turn at the month of August. But after officially taking over his new task in Beirut, little has been seen or heard of him. A local weekly reported that he had sought to rent an apartment in the mountainous area of Monteverde where the U.N. Chief Investigator operates in very secure surroundings, but did not wish to pay a seemingly exuberant rent of $25,000 annually. He moved into hotel Movenpick by the seaside in Beirut; stayed 3 days and left.

Over a month has passed and there is no sign of Mr. Verbeke. The political grapevine has it that there was a report about Mr. Verbeke on a website supposedly close to Islamist extremists linking him to certain investigations in Africa in the 1990s. If his absence is for security reasons, how could he be expected to operate in Beirut where even members of Parliament cannot protect themselves?

Whatever the reason, a prolonged absence is seriously eroding the U.N. image and that of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, particularly that there were reports that he had appointed the outgoing Belgian ambassador as a reward for voting for him. The sooner the status is clarified, the better for everyone.