Najib Mikati promises justice for Irish UN peacekeeper killed in Lebanon

Unifil peacekeeping force says it is working with Lebanese military to uncover facts of deadly attack on convoy in Al Aqbieh

Lebanon's caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati visits Unifil headquarters in the Lebanese town of Naqoura. AFP
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Lebanon is determined to uncover the circumstances that led to the killing of an Irish UN peacekeeper, caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati said during a visit to the headquarters of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) on Friday.

Private Sean Rooney, 23, was killed by a bullet to the head, and three others were injured, when their convoy came under fire from unidentified assailants in the southern village of Al Aqbieh on Wednesday as they were travelling to Beirut.

The three other injured soldiers are in hospital but in stable condition, a Unifil representative said.

“The necessary investigations are ongoing to uncover the circumstances of the incident to avoid it from happening again in the future," Mr Mikati said at the Unifil heaquarters in Naqoura, in southern Lebanon.

“Whoever is found guilty will be punished.”

According to the Irish defence forces, “a convoy of two armoured utility vehicles carrying eight personnel travelling to Beirut came under small arms fire”.

The vehicles were “surrounded by a hostile mob”, Irish Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said.

Unifil said on Thursday that the details of what occurred were “sparse and conflicting” and it was co-ordinating an investigation with the Lebanese Armed Forces to determine exactly what happened.

"The peacekeepers took a wrong turn and they got detached from the rest of the convoy," Unifil spokesman Andrea Tenenti said. "As the investigation is ongoing we cannot further comment on the circumstances surrounding the incident."

He said the Lebanese authorities were co-ordinating with Unifil and were taking the issue "very seriously".

"This is an international crime: we are calling for a swift investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice," he said. "But we do not have a timeline to finalise the report: the priority for now is to gather information".

Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia and a prominent political party that has a major presence in Al Aqbieh and in many parts of the country, on Thursday denied its involvement in the killing of the soldier.

More than 300 soldiers serving with Unifil have lost their lives since its mandate started in 1978 to maintain peace after the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon.

The last incident was in 2007, when six international peacekeepers were hit by a bomb blast in southern Lebanon.

But this is the first attack of this kind, according to Mr Tenenti. “Unifil usually has a good relationship with the locals despite sporadic incidents: this an unprecedented event," he said.

Updated: December 16, 2022, 1:48 PM
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