Since 1975 the United Nations' observers in Lebanon have been robbed, wounded, shot at and had their trucks, jeeps and radio equipment taken away at gunpoint by the various warring factions in that country's civil war.
Today, for the first time, the United Nations publicly complained.
In two press releases, the U.N. command announced that on March 7, while trying to change personnel at their observation post at El Khiam near the Israeli border, some U.N. observers came under fire during a clash between Christians and Palestinians in the area. One observer suffered a broken arm and shrapnel wounds from mortar rounds fired "from a position in the Christian-controlled areas," according to the U.N. statement.
"Additionally, two clearly identifiable U.N. vehicles were completely destroyed by tank and mortar fire from the Christian-controlled area," the statement said.
The wounded man was taken by U.N. [WORD ILLEGIBLE] to a Beirut Hospital, although Beirut is several hours drive from El Khiam and there is an Israeli aid post only a few miles away.
The United Nations complained that its operation was a normal, scheduled change of personnel and the routes were known to both sides.
Additionally, a similar U.N. move at Hin in southern Lebanon was stopped by Christian forces and the vehicles stolen.Later the vehicle was returned "but without the personal belongings of the observers," the report said.
On March 9 the same observation post "was forcibly entered by six members of the de facto forces from Christian-controlled areas wearing Israeli defense forces uniforms," according to the second U.N. press release. "Men stole at gunpoint from the unarmed observers a U.N. vehicle with other U.N. property along with personal belongings. The observers identified the men as the same persons responsible for theft of U.N. property on 7 March in the same observation post."
Although many new stories have been written about the plight of the unarmed U.N. observers, the organization peace keeping forces in the Middle East have never complained publicly until now.The reasoning was that the United Nations thought that a public complaint would hurt its image of impartiality.
But U.N. sources said that since the incident of theft and hijacking were growing worse, the United Nations had decided to go public. Incidents will be reported regularly, the source said.
The references to Christian forces wearing Israeli uniforms will not please the Israeli because, in recent weeks, the press here has been reporting outrages committed on U.N. observers by Palestinians while making no references at all to involvement by Israeli-backed Christian forced in southern Lebanon.
According to U.N. sources here, the Palestinians were responsible for most of the thefts until last September, when the Israeli invaded Southern Lebanon. Since then, the sources said, the Lebanese Christians have became the prime offenders. In February, for example, about 18 U.N. vehicles were stolen and all but one were stolen by Christian forces, the sources said.
Although several observers have been wounded, often by driving over land mines, none so far have been killed. Observers say that the reason none has been killed is probably because they are not armed. Since both sides know the observers cannot resist there has been no need to shoot them to get to their equipment.