By Ramiro Fuente
MARJAYOUN, Lebanon – Spain’s king expressed his gratitude Tuesday to Spanish troops stationed in Lebanon for the “complex and difficult” mission that they are performing so efficiently, and added that all his countrymen “feel proud” of their work in the U.N. peacekeeping force.
In front of 1,050 soldiers at the Miguel de Cervantes base near Marjayoun, Juan Carlos also congratulated Spanish Gen. Alberto Asarta for taking over command several days ago of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, which reflects “the international community’s acknowledgement of the prestige” of Spain in this and other areas of operations.
Defense Minister Carme Chacon, who was accompanying the king on his first visit to Lebanon, praised the “exceptional qualifications” of the Spanish military and their humanity, two qualities for which, she said, they are known in Lebanon.
Asarta and his officers on the base greeted the king, who, following the national anthem and the customary military honors, saluted the local authorities and reviewed a parade in the central square before a landscape dominated by the snow-covered Golan Heights, occupied by Israel.
The dark clouds that marked the beginning of the visit began to rain during the parade, after which the monarch placed a floral tribute on the monument to soldiers who have lost their lives in carrying out their mission.
Eight Spanish soldiers have died in Lebanon, six of them as victims of a car-bomb that exploded as they went by in their armored vehicle in June 2007.
The king wanted to deliver Tuesday “an emotional message” honoring those who died in Lebanon, those who were killed more recently in Afghanistan, and all Spanish soldiers who have given their lives doing their duty, during his address to the troops.
“You make us feel proud of Spain and of our armed forces,” the head of state said in concluding his tour of the base facilities, a visit that, he said, he had wanted to make “for a long time.”
Before returning to the helicopter to begin his trip back to Spain, the king broke with protocol to say goodbye personally to the troops, to whom he repeated the pride he felt for what they were doing, and concluded: “Each one of you represents Spain.” EFE