September 03, 2006

Lukewarm Welcome for the UN

On the beach in Tyre

The Italians are in town. And to say that the UN forces received a lukewarm welcome in South Lebanon is a bit of an understatement. I went to the South Saturday and witnessed the arrival and deployment of the Italians. I knew they were coming on Saturday, but since they are a professional army, I had assumed they’d already be ready and in place by the time I would arrive. Well, I got there at 11, and things were going the Italian way. They had hoped for a glamorous beach landing, but that did not materialize for unknown reason, and now most of them had to get off the ship in Naqoura. All very unglamorous. Definitely not Italian style. But they took their time, organized time for a lunch and a siesta, who knows, and were busy with their deployment pretty much all of Saturday. Very few onlookers.

Italians driving through ElMjadel

Uncanny how different their attitude towards press is from the Lebanese army. With the Lebanese, everything is forbidden. You need written approval, acquired weeks in advances from different offices somewhere in Beirut, and all kinds of stamps and Lords knows not what, and you need to kiss just about everybody’s ass and make them feel they are mighty important. If you don’t, then nobody knows anything, nobody will say anything, you cannot get close to anything, and forget about taking pictures.

The Italians and the French deal differently with the press. They look at you.
“Please go ahead, they are landing over there around the corner.”
The only time an Italian soldier told us that it was forbidden to cross a certain piece of tarmac was because we walked into the landing zone of an approaching helicopter. Little did we know. The Italian officers were very accommodating.

Ceci n'est pas un pont
The French are here also, they have an engineering company of the Foreign Legion working south of Beirut; building bridges over the many gaps in the highway. Big burly man with tattoos all over the place. These two French gendarmeries (policemen) at their side looked out of place with obnoxiously short stubbies.

The Lebanese army seems to be deploying themselves in the southern zone, although you have to look really hard for them. And once you find them, they – predictably – do not know anything. No idea why that building is cordoned off with red tape. No idea where there are houses with cluster bombing. No idea anything.

The inhabitants – on the other hand – do have an idea. It’s nice that the UN is passing by (like so many other UN contingents in the past), it’s also nice that the army is coming in and helping them out. But will it ensure that their will be no more shooting? No, that depends on Israel, they say. Will it ensure that they will be defended? No, that is Hezbollah’s department. So what are they doing here? No idea, they said, but it doesn’t do any harm either. So much for that.
Anyway, story will be published tomorrow. In Dutch, I'm afraid.

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