Bundestag debates naval force for Lebanon

19th September 2006, Comments 0 comments

19 September 2006, BERLIN - The German government sought parliament's approval Tuesday for a naval task force to be sent to Lebanon as part of a United Nations peacekeeping operation. Cabinet ministers agreed last week to send frigates and fast patrol boats with up to 2,400 naval personnel to secure Lebanon's coast in what Chancellor Angela Merkel called a mission of "historic dimension." But parliament needs to approve the first German military deployment in the Middle East since World War II, which it is

19 September 2006

BERLIN - The German government sought parliament's approval Tuesday for a naval task force to be sent to Lebanon as part of a United Nations peacekeeping operation.

Cabinet ministers agreed last week to send frigates and fast patrol boats with up to 2,400 naval personnel to secure Lebanon's coast in what Chancellor Angela Merkel called a mission of "historic dimension."

But parliament needs to approve the first German military deployment in the Middle East since World War II, which it is expected to do in a vote on Wednesday.

"This mission is in line with the good tradition of German foreign policy," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told deputies, rejecting arguments it would compromise German neutrality.

The deployment would bring stability to the region and increase Europe's role as an architect of peace in the Middle East, Steinmeier said.

Opposition Free Democrat defence expert Werner Hoyer called the planned deployment "unwise" and said it risked jeopardizing the political goodwill Germany enjoyed in the region.

Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said the figure of 2,400 was the maximum envisaged for the mission and that a smaller number would actually be deployed.

Two frigates, four fast patrol boats, two supply ships, one tender, and two helicopters will be deployed by Germany in cooperation with naval forces being sent by the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, Jung said.

Initially, the force would patrol an area from the Lebanese coastline extending out 50 nautical miles, with the task of stopping the smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah militants based in Lebanon.

Jung had earlier vowed the German Navy would carry out searches of suspicious ships - even against the will of captains who tried to evade controls.

The mission's mandate will initially be limited through August 31, 2007. The government is expected to win easy approval for it as a result of the ruling coalition's big majority in parliament.

German naval vessels would then be able to arrive off the Lebanese coast by early October, given that takes about 10 days for ships to travel from the North Sea to the eastern Mediterranean.

Germany has already provided a small number of border police and customs officials to be stationed at Beirut International Airport to supervise incoming cargo.

The UN is deploying a 15,000-member peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon under a ceasefire agreement which last month ended fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

DPA

Subject: German news

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