BEIRUT: An international conference hosted in Paris Wednesday voiced verbal support for Lebanon’s Army and economy as the country grapples with the spillover effects of the war in neighboring Syria, but the meeting fell short of pledging tangible assistance.
Convened by the International Support Group for Lebanon, the conference was attended by the foreign ministers of 10 countries, including Britain, China, France, Russia, the U.S., Germany and Saudi Arabia.
France contributed 7 million euros ($10 million), Norway $4.8 million and Finland $3 million, according to an official at the French presidential Elysee Palace. The grants were transferred to a multi-donor trust fund, managed by the World Bank.
Conference attendees acknowledged the huge challenge the influx of Syrian refugees presented for Lebanon and the need for greater burden-sharing.
“The U.N. and its partners stood ready to work closely with government counterparts, including with regard to enhancing Lebanon’s ability to manage and assist arriving refugees and to putting in place contingency measures for their reception,” said an ISGL statement read by Jeffrey Feltman, the United Nations undersecretary-general.
“They welcomed continuing efforts to expand resettlement programs for Syrian refugees and encouraged the international community to look for ways to further assist in this regard,” the statement added.
Participants encouraged Lebanon to swiftly work on implementing the Road Map for Stabilization, developed during the first Support Group meeting in partnership with the World Bank and the U.N., which sets out priority interventions to mitigate the impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon.
“They encouraged further such assistance both through existing humanitarian and development instruments and through the World Bank-managed Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Lebanon,” the ISGL statement added.
The ISGL was launched in New York last September with the aim of supporting Lebanon’s institutions and helping the small nation address the presence of over a million Syrian refugees on its territories.
Participants highlighted the critical role played by the Lebanese Army in confronting the growing security repercussions resulting from war in Syria along with its efforts with the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon to preserve calm along the southern border with Israel.
“They stressed the need to further strengthen the LAF’s [Lebanese Armed Forces] capabilities to help them address these challenges. They welcomed international assistance already being given in line with the LAF’s five-year capabilities-development plan and the recent generous offer of assistance by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Participants noted the launch on 20 February of a coordination mechanism in support of the five-year plan,” the statement said.
Saudi Arabia announced last December that it provided the poorly equipped Lebanese Army with a $3 billion grant under which it would receive arms it needed from France. The ISGL is holding a conference in Rome later this year to tackle a means to strengthen the Army.
“Recognizing the increased terrorist threat to Lebanese civilians, participants underlined the need for a comprehensive response to it, including further international support to the Lebanese security services,” the statement said. “They reiterated that there should be no impunity in Lebanon, and noted that the trial in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon opened on Jan. 16, 2014,” it added.
Participants welcomed the Feb. 15 formation of Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s government, expressing their willingness to cooperate with Salam.
They also highlighted the importance of holding Lebanon’s presidential and parliamentary polls on time and called on all Lebanese factions to adhere to the Baabda Declaration.
During the opening ceremony, President Michel Sleiman said international assistance for the Army was required to implement his proposed national defense strategy.
“I hope that the plan to support the Army is realized and leads to the adoption of the national defense strategy which I presented to the National Dialogue Committee in 2012,” Sleiman said at the Elysee Palace in Paris during a joint news conference with French President Francois Hollande and Feltman.
Sleiman’s national defense strategy calls for placing Hezbollah’s arsenal under the command of the Lebanese Army.
Sleiman said he was glad that internal and external sides had confidence in the military establishment, which had proven to be a symbol of national unity and a guarantor of civil peace and democracy.
He welcomed the progress in economic support for Lebanon, realized with the establishment of the Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Lebanon.
“We look forward for friendly and capable states to meet calls for subscribing in the Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Lebanon as soon as possible,” the president added.
Sleiman said the growing crisis of Syrian refugees in Lebanon constituted an existential threat for the country, requiring additional financial support, burden-sharing, possibly erecting reception centers for refugees inside Syria itself and ultimately, coming up with a political solution for the crisis in Syria.
“There are over 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon,” Hollande said. “It is a very heavy burden.”Hollande added that the meeting should focus on more than just “moral and political” support, urging donor states to provide training and equipment to the Lebanese Army. He said his country and the international community supported Lebanon on the political, military and economic levels and would help the country in addressing the crisis of Syrian refugees.
The French president said his country would work on providing the Lebanese Army with the equipment it needed in line with the Saudi grant.
For his part, Feltman said the U.N. was committed to supporting Lebanon, the smallest neighbor of Syria and the one mostly affected by its civil war.
At the end of the conference, Sleiman thanked Paris for hosting the event and hoped the international support would encourage local and regional powers to distance Lebanon from regional conflicts.
He met separately with Hollande and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.