Tel Aviv (Jan. 14)
Gen. Emmanuel Erskine of Ghana, commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) says that his men spend 50 percent of their time trying to prevent Palestinian terrorist infiltration into Israel and is successful in preventing most incursions. In an in
terview with Maariv, Erskine noted that because of the rocky terrain in south Lebanon it was impossible to be “100 percent ironclad.”
He said that most of the Palestinian successes in getting through the Israel border were due to cooperation between the terrorists and local south Lebanese villagers. He said he had called the attention of both Israel’s northern area commander Gen. Avigdor Ben-Gal and Christian militia commander Maj. Saad Haddad to this fact.
Erskine said he was aware that global political considerations colored UN actions in the General Assembly and the Security Council “But I cannot say that fact has influenced any of the instructions I have received as to how I and my force are to act,” he stated.
The UNIFIL commander said he did not wish to discuss the mutilation of the bodies of slain terrorists with which Israel has been charged but vehemently denies. He said that he himself had been in New York at the time and his suggestion, when he returned, of an international inquiry commission was rejected by Israel, which preferred a joint Israel-UNIFIL investigation. He agreed to this, but it was rejected by UN head-quarters in New York.
Because of the lapse of time, the intervening rains and the burial of the bodies the UN preferred political contacts between New York and the Israeli Foreign Ministry to settle the affair, Erskine said. He said he knew that there had been suspicion of UNIFIL on the part of the Israeli public since its mission began but there was now a climate of mutual respect between his force and the Israel army.
Erskine said that since May, 1980 there had been practically no contacts between his men and Palestine Liberation Organization leaders, where as before that there had been frequent meetings with PLO chief Yasir Arafat and others. “Recently we have not been able to establish with the PLO the contacts and cooperation we would like,” he said.