Lebanon: the success of the Italian activity told by General Ugo Cillo, commander of the western sector of UNIFIL

(To Maria Grazia Labellarte)

The "Pozzuolo del Friuli" cavalry brigade succeeded the "Sassari" brigade in command of the Leonte operation inserted in the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) mission, the UN interposition force in southern Lebanon.

The commander of the west sector of UNIFIL is currently the Brigadier General Ugo Cillo. During the first months of the mission he met the main civil, military and religious authorities of South Lebanon. He found the maximum collaboration and satisfaction for the activities carried out by Unifil in general and by the Italian contingent in particular.

The general made himself available to tell readers of Defense Online a key theme of the Italian recipe for success in international missions: civil and military cooperation.

General Cillo, based on his professional experience, what has been the evolution of civil-military cooperation from the 2006 within the UNIFIL?

My experience in Lebanon dates back to the 2006, when I worked in "Leonte I" as battalion commander of the Lagunari regiment north of Tire. At the time, the command of the west sector of Unifil was entrusted to the cavalry brigade "Pozzuolo del Friuli". After 10 years I return to Lebanon as commander of the "Pozzuolo", arrived at the fifth mandate in the land of the cedars.

Assistance to the civilian population, which takes place through civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) and reconstruction projects, is a fundamental part of the UN Security Council 1701 Resolution. Italy devotes many efforts in this sector, employing specialized military personnel of the CIMIC GROUP SOUTH of Motta di Livenza. From the 2006 to today, more than 750 CIMIC projects have been implemented, including interventions to public infrastructures such as roads, schools and hospitals, professional courses and humanitarian aid distributions to the most needy.

What are the projects followed by your unit?

The cavalry brigade took command of Unifil's Sector West last October 17. In this period we have completed some projects already started by our predecessors (the Sassari brigade) and started new ones such as the requalification and energy adaptation in the municipality of Shama, which for years has been the head of the sector, through the installation of new lighting systems public. In this project, also carried out in other municipalities, we used renewable energy from photovoltaic systems, which allow public lighting where, as in Lebanon, the national electricity grid is not always suitable.

We then operated at the Bint Jbail government hospital, completing a hospital wing with donated material from the Novara hospital, and the Rmeish children's school where new flooring was built and stoves installed. We also delivered toys to our little guests, donated by the Rotary Club of "Roma Campidoglio". In Buj Ash Shamal, on the other hand, we have supplied the local school with new furnishings for housing inside the school, where less well-off students are hosted. We then went to the municipality of Bayt Yahoun, where we installed new furnishings and outdoor games in the public garden, allowing citizens to enjoy a common meeting place and for children to play safely. Another commitment to which we care a lot, and which is followed in synergy with the Unifil Civil Affair, is the support to the development of female entrepreneurship. In this context we promote the organization of flea markets where artisanal products are sold, packaged by women's cooperatives in southern Lebanon.

The list of projects is very long: I still remember, in summary, our commitment to the municipalities of southern Lebanon in the public, educational and health sectors. In this last sector, in particular, we organize free medical visits (medical care) and mobile clinics with our military health personnel.

Are there continuous relations with local authorities and fruitful exchanges of information?

Relations with the local authorities are constant and I myself daily meet the highest political, military and religious positions in the area, with whom I compare myself to facilitate the application and compliance with the UN 1701 resolution. Recently I met all the religious leaders of southern Lebanon: the Shiite mufti of Tire Sheikh Hassan Abdallah, the Sunni mufti Midrar Saad Eldin Habbal, the Maronite archbishop Skukrallah Nabil Al Haje, the Greek Catholic bishop Mikhael El Abrass.

The exchange of information is mutual, there is great availability and we work in harmony in respect of roles and skills. On the other hand, cooperation in the field of security and reconstruction is a common interest and we have excellent interaction with the local community. At the level of institutional leaders, mention must be made of the success of the "tripartite meetings" (a meeting convened by the Unifil force commander with the representatives of the Israeli armed forces and the Lebanese armed forces), the only instrument of comparison, to which Lebanon has so far adhered and Israel, to try to resolve delicate aspects relating to security, through the mediation of UNIFIL representatives, first of all the force commander.

Is there commitment and involvement of other actors, such as NGOs, universities or the private sector of our country?

Yes of course. Many NGOs, associations, non-profit organizations and cultural realities close to the units that take turns in the "Leonte" operation offer an important contribution to the realization of civil-military cooperation initiatives. Universities have also expressed their interest in the activities of the contingent, and we at Pozzuolo del Friuli have a consolidated synergy with the University of Trieste and the University of Udine. It is precisely with the latter that cooperation projects are underway with the universities of southern Lebanon.

In addition to assisting vulnerable groups and road infrastructures, what are the projects that involve the population?

In addition to civil-military cooperation activities, the Italian contingent organizes initiatives that involve the population on topics of interest such as road and domestic security, professional and Italian language courses. We also held a cooking course organized in Maraaka, which was attended by other common 5, which saw the collaboration of the female community and was a great success. On the road safety front, we have conducted information campaigns on safe driving and compliance with safety standards for the transport of minors by car. With the contingent veterinary officer we also organized meetings on food preservation and prevention of food poisoning. Other activities we care about a lot are sports, a very effective educational tool especially for the younger ones. In fact, last November we supported the activity of Inter Campus, which for many years has been conducting training and leisure activities based on sport's founding values ​​in southern Lebanon.

In your opinion, is it possible to change the approach of the interventions? On which sector would the effort between health, education and social increase?

In my opinion, to date a balanced and coherent approach has been adopted in the management of interventions in favor of the population. The projects that we carry out, in fact, are carried out in agreement with the local authorities on the basis of their requests, and reflect a fair balance between the different needs.