25 January 2007United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a major international donors’ conference on Lebanon today that the global community must support the war-shattered country’s efforts for economic and political reconstruction, with its neighbours staying out of its affairs. “Political stability has to be the bedrock on which we consolidate economic recovery and reconstruction,” Mr. Ban told the donors in Paris, citing the unsustainable level of debt at 180 per cent of the gross domestic product as one of the fundamental obstacles to the country’s recovery and long-term development. “I call on Lebanon’s neighbours to fully respect its unity, independence and sovereignty. Lebanese democracy can only work if its leaders are free to make decisions and pursue reconciliation without fear of external pressure or interference.” He urged all parties and communities in Lebanon to engage in meaningful dialogue and avoid recourse to violence and intimidation. “The only hope for stability lies in the path of national dialogue and reconciliation,” he said. Mr. Ban noted that the conference, first mooted in September 2005, had become even more urgent following last summer’s war between Israel and Hizbollah. “Today the Lebanese people are once again being tested. Their response will help to determine not only the future of the country but also the prospects for a broader peace in the Middle East,” he concluded. “I call on the Lebanese to cooperate, without distinction of faction or faith, in order to reinforce their economy and to work for a prosperous and independent Lebanon. And I urge the international community to support these efforts. The United Nations, of course, will continue to assume its role.”Mr. Ban met with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who briefed him on the situation in the country and conveyed his appreciation of the UN involvement.They discussed the political and economic situation and the implementation of resolution 1701 which ended 34 days of fighting in August and strengthened the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to a maximum of 15,000 troops and mandated a complete Israeli withdrawal, together with Lebanese army deployment in southern Lebanon.In New York the Security Council today discussed the current political violence roiling Lebanon. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari told the 15-member body the situation showed how easily political tensions can spill over into violence. On the ground, the office of the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Lebanon reported a number of clashes in Beirut and south of Beirut, including between students at Beirut Arab University. The army immediately deployed to the area, where fatalities were also reported.Mr. Ban also met with a number of foreign ministers separately, including those from Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, and was scheduled to have met with United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.Earlier today he conferred his Special Envoy for the Future Status Process for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, who tomorrow is to present his proposals on the final status of the Albanian-majority Serbian province that the UN has run since Western forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid brutal ethnic fighting.Mr. Ahtisaari is to unveil his plan to the so-called Contact Group – the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Russia – in Vienna tomorrow and will take it to the Serbian and Albanian-led Kosovo governments on 2 February. Independence and autonomy are among options mentioned but Serbia rejects independence.