BEIRUT, (AFP) — UN chief Ban Ki-moon arrived in Lebanon on Friday for talks on a controversial UN-backed court probing the assassination of the country’s ex-premier and on the bloodshed in Syria.
During his three-day visit, Ban was also expected to address the thorny issue of Hezbollah’s weapons arsenal and recent attacks against UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon.
The UN chief, who made no statement on his arrival, was to meet separately in the afternoon with President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and parliament speaker Nabih Berri.
On Saturday, he was to review troops serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and meet members of the Western-backed opposition.
Several dozen people gathered in downtown Beirut on his arrival to denounce the visit and express their support for Hezbollah, backed by neighbouring Syria and by Iran.
Top on Ban’s agenda will be Lebanon’s continued cooperation with the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon which has charged four Hezbollah operatives in the 2005 assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.
The Shiite group, the most powerful military and political force in Lebanon, dominates Mikati’s government and has refused outright to cooperate with the STL.
Lebanon’s mandate with the UN as concerns the STL expires at the end of February. Under the protocol establishing the STL, the mandate may be renewed without Lebanese approval if the court has not completed its work.
A Hezbollah official made clear ahead of Ban’s visit, the fourth since 2007, that he was not welcome in Beirut.
And Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah was expected to refer to the visit in separate speeches later Friday and on Saturday.
Ahead of his arrival, Ban told the local Arabic-language daily An-Nahar in an interview that he hoped to eventually see Hezbollah disarm.
The party is the only faction in Lebanon that refused to surrender its weapons after the 1975-1990 civil war, arguing they were needed to defend the country against Israeli aggression.
The group, which fought a devastating war with Israel in 2006, is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Washington.
In the An-Nahar interview, Ban also urged the international community to adopt a united stand in dealing with the revolt in Syria.
He said he had repeatedly appealed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop the bloodshed and listen to his people but that the latter had only made empty promises.
Ban said the UN Security Council must take Assad’s behaviour into account and unite in seeking an end to the crisis.
Russia has repeatedly sided with Assad’s regime and earlier this month sent a large naval flotilla to the Syrian port of Tartus in what Damascus said was a show of solidarity.