Lebanon News

Army officers’ promotion delayed by sectarianism fears: Bou Saab

President Michel Aoun shakes hands with Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun in Baabda, Dec. 27, 2019. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: Caretaker Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab Friday told President Michel Aoun that there was an issue in the promotion of senior Lebanese Army officers. Bou Saab, who spoke to reporters after meeting Aoun at Baabda Palace, said the issue was specific to the promotion of 126 Army colonels to the rank of brigadier general.

“We’ve reached the end of 2019 and promotions are due for officers in the Lebanese Army,” Bou Saab said. “There were 181 colonels who were candidates to becoming brigadier-generals, but the Military Council decided to promote 126 out of those 181.”

“Unfortunately, there are some who say that there are sectarian imbalances in these promotions,” he said, stressing that there should be no place for sectarian thinking in the security agencies.

There have been reports that the decree was not to be signed by caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri. These reports also suggest that the opposition to the decree is due to the number of officers being promoted.

Bou Saab said his requests to meet with Hariri to resolve the problem had gone unanswered.

He added that he was keen on not depriving the officers of their right to promotion.

Since an agreement could not been reached on the issue, Bou Saab said, “We still have three days to find a solution to this problem before the end of the year, after which the officers will lose the opportunity to be promoted to brigadier-general,” Bou Saab said.

Hariri’s media office announced Friday afternoon that the outgoing premier approved decrees that he had received and that promote lower-ranking officers.

Bou Saab told reporters at the news conference that he had signed off on decrees promoting 598 officers between the ranks of first-lieutenant through colonel.

A source close to Hariri confirmed to The Daily Star that decrees signed by the outgoing premier did not include the decree ordering the promotion of the 126 Army colonels as he had yet to receive it.

Also at Baabda Palace, Aoun held a series of meetings with security leaders, who reflected on the past year’s efforts to maintain stability in the country.

Heads of the country’s agencies also highlighted the security operations implemented during the past 72 days of mass uprisings in Lebanon.

The separate meetings were held at Baabda Palace that included Army chief Gen. Joseph Aoun, Internal Security Forces head Maj. Gen. Imad Othman, General Security head Abbas Ibrahim, State Security head Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba and Customs chief Badri Daher.

Addressing the security leaders, Aoun called on the security forces to remain vigilant in combating any security imbalances and corruption that they may face.

He highlighted the forces’ efforts to maintain security and stability during the tumultuous period of popular uprisings which erupted on Oct. 17.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets demanding an overhaul of a decades-old ruling political class.

Aoun said Lebanon was passing through difficult circumstances, but hoped that a “new government will gradually begin to improve and overcome the crisis.”

Heading the Army delegation, Gen. Aoun said that for the past 72 days, the Army has sought to “ensure the safety of peaceful demonstrators, as well as the freedom of movement and preservation of public and private property.”

“Our Army. that is used to fighting enemies, today finds itself in front of a painful reality,” Gen. Aoun said. He added that the institution would continue to shoulder its responsibility to maintain civil peace and prevent strife, “no matter the sacrifices.”

Othman, who headed the Internal Security Forces delegation, echoed Gen. Aoun’s sentiments, saying, “Our relationship with the protesters is based on legal texts in terms of protecting freedom of expression ... and we are keen on implementing the laws especially in terms of gradual use of force.”

During the protests the security forces, especially riot police, were criticized for using excessive force against protesters.

“We resolve most disputes that we face ... in a manner that allows us to maintain neutrality in our work and keep an equal distance with everyone,” Othman said.

He told Aoun that 295 members of the ISF had been wounded during confrontations with protesters.

Othman emphasized the role of the ISF in maintaining peace and order in the country.

The ISF head said that the agency was “sparing no effort” to develop the work of the organization by adopting modern technical methods and hopes to implement a strategic plan to meet international police standards.

Daher, for his part, also looked at the future of the country, stating that “we are looking for the stability and prosperity” for Lebanon which requires change and reform to face future challenges.

“The road is long and arduous, Daher said, adding, “but failure is not inevitable.”

“Efforts to fight corruption are beginning to bear fruit and reap the desired results,” said Saliba, heading the State Security delegation.

He added that State Security would continue to cooperate with citizens and authorities to put an end to the traditions of patronage, privileges and immunities.

Leading the General Security delegation, Ibrahim also affirmed the organization’s commitment to “remain strong in the face of dangers and challenges facing our homeland.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 28, 2019, on page 2.

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