Damning report may be diluted

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The Independent Online
The UN report on the Qana incident is so damning - for both Israel and for the UN - that its findings may be diluted or rewritten completely before it sees the light of day, diplomats said yesterday.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, is due to give an oral briefing to the UN Security Council in New York this afternoon on the main conclusions of the report that was compiled on his request by his senior military advisor, General Frank Van Kappen of the Netherlands.

It is unclear, however, whether Mr Boutros-Ghali will choose to distribute the current draft of the Van Kappen report, some details of which were leaked to reporters last week. Without any written text, the Security Council will not be able take action in response.

The pressures on Mr Boutros-Ghali to withhold at least the first Van Kappen draft are manifold. The US government has already voiced its scepticism about the findings of the general, who was dispatched to Lebanon in the aftermath of the 18 April attack. The US mission in New York reportedly has also warned that it does not want the report published.

Equally, however, the report contains highly damaging information about the UN itself and about the conduct of the peace-keepers in southern Lebanon. The facility that was struck in the attack was the headquarters of a Fijian battalion that makes up a part of Unifil, a UN buffer force. The camp was crammed with civilians at the time.

Notably, General Van Kappen reveals that Hizbollah guerrillas, who had been firing rockets into Israeli territory from placements nearby, had been in the habit of running into the UN encampment to hide from Israeli fire. Though the Fijians had previously made some efforts to block access to the guerrillas, they had apparently all but given up by the time of the Israeli attack.

"The UN loses big in this report, because it has been shown to have harboured terrorists," one source close to the council said yesterday. He added: "I think it is probable that the report will be watered down before we ever see it."

Israel will also have an opportunity to try to influence the report's fate. Officials from the Israeli mission in New York have been given until midday today to offer fresh evidence to contradict General Van Kappen's conclusions.

Part of the plot also is the widely assumed desire of Mr Boutros-Ghali to be elected to a second term as Secretary-General at the end of this year;publishing Van Kappen's report may not help him in that cause.

Even if the report in its original form is released, it is far from clear what would follow. Egypt would be certain to demand fresh action to condemn the Israeli government. Other states may argue that a resolution was passed on the day of the Israeli attack and, though it was mild in substance, no further action would be required.