Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lucrative contract to supply dairy products to UN motive for destruction of Liban Lait

Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Bombing of Liban Lait leaves a sour smell
Israeli firm lost lucrative UNIFIl supply contract to bekaa dairy in 2001
By Lysandra Ohrstrom
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: A lucrative contract to supply dairy products to United Nations peacekeepers in South Lebanon may have motivated the destruction of Lebanon's largest dairy farm, Liban Lait said Tuesday. The Bekaa-based factory had been providing the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) with milk and yogurt since it out-bid an Israeli firm in 2001, but has been inoperational since six precision-guided bombs targeted the dairy's processing plant on July 19. "The Israelis knew the outcome of conflict and they knew that they would be asking for 15,000 troops to be stationed at the border," Liban Lait's marketing manager, Mark Waked, told The Daily Star. Waked estimated the contract to be worth between $2 million and $3 million with a beefed-up UNIFIL contingent in Lebanon. "It's a worthwhile contract supplying 15,000 troops, and knowing that I'm sure they hit the plant so northern Israel could provide the milk," he said, adding that the Israelis hit a dairy factory in the Gaza Strip as well.

UNIFIL's procurement department said they had not issued any invitations to bid for their dairy contract yet, and refused to specify a future date for the tender. They also declined to divulge which Israeli firm supplied UNIFIL with dairy products in the past. Nestle would not confirm rumors that its Israel branch held the contract in the past. The Middle East headquarters of Nestle did not return numerous calls from The Daily Star, and in response to an email inquiry, the company's European headquarters said that "we are not in the habit of discussing commercial relationships with any customers in the media."UNIFIL's media coordinator, Hassan Saklawi, said a cargo ship has delivered food to the Naqoura harbor every second day from a logistical base in Cyprus since the conflict began. He said UNIFIL no longer gets its milk on the local market, but could not specify the origin and brand of the new supplies. "You have to call the UN Tender Committee in New York to find out which brands come in, but we are not allowed to bring products from Israel," he said, "all I can tell you my friend is that nothing is written in Hebrew on our items OK."
Liban Lait's cows and some of its utilities were spared from Israeli fire, but the entire processing plant has been burned to the ground. The company was forced to suspend 180 of the plant's estimated 250 workers Monday in what Waked called an "extended vacation." Waked hopes that Liban Lait - whose products account for 70 percent of the annual dairy consumed in Lebanon - will be able to resume regular processing within two months. For the time being they are selling fresh milk to other local dairies to be processed, and imports of long-life dairy products are filling the gap. Though no complete estimate of damages to Lebanon's industrial sector have been issued, factories suffered at least $200 million in losses.

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