Ambassador of Lebanon Dr. Farid Abboud at Al-Hewar Center:
Lebanon Will Fight Corruption by "Authority of Law"

    Lebanese Ambassador to the United States Dr. Farid Abboud recently declared that the withdrawal of Israeli intelligence elements and (Lebanese) Forces collaborating with Israel from the town of Jezzine and 24 villages in south Lebanon is a "big gain, especially since it was not a result of any political settlement; Lebanon did not negotiate for it and did not offer any assurances."   
    "Our position towards withdrawal was always neither to have it conditional nor accompanied by a cease-fire," said Ambassador Abboud in his remarks at Al-Hewar Center on the evening of June 2. "The Resistance is still active in the area and  it abides by the April 1996 Understanding."  He added that "we were asked to stop [Resistance] operations during the withdrawal. [But,] the state refuses the principle of a cease-fire as long as Israeli occupation continues."
    Ambassador Abboud added that the de facto forces (DFF) collaborating with Israel "were forced to withdraw as a result of Resistance operations that inflicted relatively high casualties upon them, which resulted in the collapse of their defense organization; the militia no longer had enough people to man its positions."  He described the withdrawal from Jezzine as "a tactical necessary step dictated by field operations," and expected "the situation in the [Israeli] occupied zone to go back to what it was, and the Resistance to continue its activity -- (in) an attrition war (within) a suitable regional structure."
    Ambassador Abboud announced that Lebanese Internal Security forces have entered the Jezzine area "aiming to protect the security of Lebanese citizens." He underscored that "our aim is not to hold a war-front and transform it into a buffer zone to defend the positions occupied by Israel." He noted that the Lebanese Resistance published a formal statement that it will neither enter the populated areas of Jezzine, nor control them or have any military deployment in them.
    He highlighted that the Israelis moved the Lebanese-Israeli border milestones forward at many spots, in a series of "border bites" as deep as 3 km, in addition to a number of villages and farms that Israel had occupied during 1967 war. Israel is also exploiting the waters of the Hasbani River.
    Turning to the economic situation in Lebanon, Ambassador Abboud acknowledged a "shrinking economy -- the situation is difficult," adding that "Lebanon is at a cross roads, and in a difficult and sensitive interim period."  He said that foreign debt amounts to $18.8 billion and that 80% of budget expenses go to settle foreign debt and pay the salaries of governmental employees, while 20% of expenses are "productive" and mostly spent on reconstruction projects.  Otherwise, Bank of Lebanon reserves amount to $6.8 billion. Accordingly, Prime Minster Salim el-Hoss’s government initiated a 4-5 year tight-belt policy that included reducing unproductive expenses, foreign debt, and borrowing as well as converting local debts in Lebanese liras into hard currencies to cut their interest by half. This policy also comprises the privatization of some public projects. including the national carrier Middle East Airlines, and having the public and private sectors share other projects.
    Ambassador Abboud proclaimed that Lebanon "chose to fight corruption through the judiciary. The state tries to apply the law on all. Stealing is a shame and a crime, and when any evidence is found, it will lead the person who committed that crime to prison. A new culture is being born. But corruption is part of the political structure, and huge political forces resist fighting corruption."    In his swearing-in speech, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud called for the "authority of law," he recalled.

This article was prepared by Mr. Farid El Khatib and first appeared on his on-line magazine, U.S. Report on the Middle East.

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