American Ambassador David Hale participated in a ceremony celebrating the handover of 46,500 square meters of mine-free land to the residents of Deir Billa. The mine removal project in this village was completed by the Lebanese Mine Action Center (LMAC) and Handicap International in April 2015. America is proud to have played a role in supporting these organizations’ work in the district of Batroun, in addition to our support for similar projects throughout Lebanon. America, through the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, has invested more than $54 million towards demining efforts in Lebanon in the past two decades and remains committed to Lebanon’s long-term security and prosperity.
Below are Ambassador Hale’s remarks as prepared for the event.
Good morning and thank you for having me on this beautiful day in Deir Billa. I am honored to be here with all of you: Qa’im-Maqam Tobia, General Nassif and the staff of the Lebanese Mine Action Center (LMAC), members of the mine action community, and other distinguished guests.
Today we celebrate the handover of 46,500 square meters of mine-free land to the residents of Deir Billa. For decades, this area around us was covered with land mines left over from Lebanon’s painful civil war. The mines were a danger to the villagers and made the land unusable for agriculture. Thanks to the efforts of the LMAC and mine action organizations like Handicap International, Deir Billa has been completely cleared of land mines. This area can now be used for farming or homes.
America is proud to have helped remove land mines from Deir Billa and similar communities throughout Lebanon. Since 1993, we have worked closely with LMAC and NGO partners to clear mines and cluster munitions from more than 90 million square meters of Lebanese territory. In the last two decades, we have invested more than $54 million towards demining efforts in Lebanon, secure in the knowledge that mine removal not only improves the lives of individuals living in the immediate area, but also contributes to Lebanon’s overall security and socio-economic development.
Mine removal programs are just one way in which America is committed to Lebanon’s long-term security and prosperity. To keep Lebanon secure, the United States has contributed more than $1 billion to the Lebanese Army over the last decade. We continue to provide the weapons and equipment requested by the army to build its capacity.
We are also focused on promoting economic development in Lebanon, especially in rural communities like Deir Billa. For the past 10 years, the United States has worked with local partners to promote economic opportunities in rural, agricultural areas, so that all Lebanese can prosper. USAID programs provide new technologies and training to help spur innovation in Lebanon’s agricultural sector and boost economic growth and jobs in Lebanon’s rural areas.
America’s partnership with Lebanon and the Lebanese people is enduring and there is more work to be done. Thanks to the excellent and dedicated work of LMAC, Lebanon is on track to be completely mine-free by 2021, a remarkable achievement given the terrible legacy of land mines here. This tremendous work could not be accomplished successfully without the dedication of the mine action community.
To all our implementing partners: Handicap International, Mines Advisory Group, Danish Church Aid, Norwegian People’s Aid, ITF Enhancing Human Security, and the Marshall Legacy Institute — each of you plays a special role in these efforts and we thank you for your persistence and commitment.
We are truly honored to be supporting such a great cause and we would like to thank all who have worked with us to help free hundreds of Lebanese communities, including Deir Billa, from these dangerous threats. We are dedicated to continuing our support for Lebanon’s stability, security, and prosperity in the years ahead. Thank you all again.