Colombian sons killed in Lebanon

BFP Magazine

Attack in Lebanon

Colombian sons killed in Lebanon

By Judi McLeod

Monday, June 25, 2007

There's heartache in Colombia today after three Colombian and three Spanish United Nations peacekeepers were killed in Lebanon. Two others were wounded in the same attack.

No one is claiming responsibility for the attack on the peacekeepers, who were deployed along the border with Israel after last summer's war with Hezbollah. But suspicion is rife that it is militant Islamists, who are fighting the Lebanese Army in the country's north. The United Nations force has been on red alert for weeks because of that fight and several bombings that are believed to be related to it.

The attack hit two United Nations vehicles on a main road near the southern town of Khiyam. Witnesses said ammunition in at least one vehicle exploded after the initial blast.

Spanish Defense Minister Jose Antonio Alonso flew to Lebanon today to collect the bodies of the Spanish soldiers killed in the bombing. At press time, there was no word as to the intentions of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's administration.

"Apparently it was a car bomb attack," said Milos Strugar, a spokesman for the United Nations Peacekeeping force. He said investigations were now under way. Security officials in Lebanon said there was also some suspicion that a roadside bomb could have been used.

On the Sunday before the attack on the United Nations peacekeepers, the Lebanese Army raided what was described as a militant hide-out in the northern city of Tripoli. The raid, in which six Islamists and at least four others were killed, was one of dozens stemming from the nearby battle at the refugee camp. An army spokesman said the dead in the raid included three Saudi nationals, a Lebanese married couple and one Chechen, all described as militants.

Today's attack on the Colombian and Spanish troops proves that no one is safe in Lebanon.

"It was only a matter of time," Hilal Khashan, a political analyst in Beirut said of the attack on the peacekeepers.

"In the past five weeks alone, since fighting began in the north between the army and militant Islamists holed up in the Nahr al Bared Palestinian refugee camp, at least seven bombs have exploded in Lebanon." (New York Times, June 25, 2007). "Less than two weeks ago one of those bombs killed an anti-Syrian lawmaker, his son and six others."

"From the north to the south, the whole country is now engaged, and the worst is to come," said Khashan.

Hezbollah vigorously condemned the attacks, as did the other partisans involved in Lebanon's political conflict.

"Hezbollah vigorously condemns the attack and considers it a suspicious act that hurts Lebanon and its inhabitants," the group said in a statement. "This act of aggression is aimed at increasing insecurity in Lebanon, especially in the south of the country."

No mention from Hezbollah that the attack is particularly embarrassing because it comes in an area that it has long controlled; despite the presence of Unifil forces, Hezbollah has effectively remained the prime authority in the south.

Meanwhile, relief workers in conflict zones are no longer considered to be neutral, according to a former senior UN official.

In a speech in London tonight, Sir Mark Malloch-Brown, former UN deputy secretary-general under Kofi Annan, will say: "The brutal truth is politics is making it harder and harder to serve victims' needs by reaching them with assistance or bearing witnesses to their suffering and thereby staying the hand of those who would harm them."

Colombia's sons will return home to an outpouring of private and public grief.

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