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AFP
June 17, 2021

Lebanon too broke to pay soldiers enough

AFP
June 17, 2021

Beirut: Lebanon is unable to pay its soldiers enough, the army warned Wednesday ahead of a UN-backed conference during which donors will seek to shore up one of the bankrupt country’s key institutions.

Unlike previous conferences designed to provide training, weapons or equipment for Lebanon’s armed forces, the virtual meeting hosted by France on Thursday aims to offer the kind of humanitarian assistance usually reserved for countries grappling with conflict or natural disaster.

"We are in need of food parcels, healthcare assistance and support with soldiers’ pay," a military source told AFP on condition of anonymity. "The devaluation of the Lebanese pound is affecting soldiers and they are in need of support. Their salaries are not enough anymore."

Lebanon’s economic crisis, which the World Bank has labelled as one of the world’s worst since the 1850s, has eaten away at soldiers’ pay and slashed the military’s budget for maintenance and equipment, further threatening the country’s stability.

Already mid last year, the army said it had scrapped meat from the meals offered to on-duty soldiers, due to rising food prices. "We are doing the impossible to ease the suffering and the economic woes of our soldiers," army chief Joseph Aoun said in a speech on Tuesday.

"We are forced to turn to allied states to secure aid, and I am ready to go to the end of the world to procure assistance so that the army can stay on its feet." Around 20 countries, including the United States, EU member states, Gulf countries, Russia and China have been invited to take part in the conference alongside UN representatives.

It follows a visit by Aoun last month to Paris, where he warned that the army could face even darker days without emergency support. "The Lebanese army is going through a major crisis, which could get worse due to the deteriorating economic and social situation in Lebanon, which may worsen when subsidies are lifted," he said. He was referring to a government plan to scrap subsidies on essential goods such as fuel, food and flour to shore up dwindling foreign currency reserves.