EU ministers hopeful on Lebanon troop pledges

25th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

25 August 2006, BRUSSELS - United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and European Union foreign ministers Friday said they were confident of raising a large number of European troops for the 15,000-strong international peace-keeping force in southern Lebanon. As EU ministers opened emergency talks aimed at firming up EU troop offers to the UN operation, Annan said he expected to hold a "successful meeting" with the 25 ministers. "Europe will assume its responsibility and show its solidarity with the peop

25 August 2006

BRUSSELS - United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and European Union foreign ministers Friday said they were confident of raising a large number of European troops for the 15,000-strong international peace-keeping force in southern Lebanon.

As EU ministers opened emergency talks aimed at firming up EU troop offers to the UN operation, Annan said he expected to hold a "successful meeting" with the 25 ministers.

"Europe will assume its responsibility and show its solidarity with the people of Lebanon," said Annan.

The EU meeting would be a "good start," Annan said after talks with Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt.

Coming into the EU talks, Britain's Minister for Europe Geoff Hoon told reporters the 25-nation bloc was making "good progress" in contributing troops to the UN mission.

"I certainly believe that Europe can make a significant contribution," Hoon said.

"We have already seen a number of countries indicating their contributions...and I am sure there will be further offers today," the British minister underlined.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the meeting with Annan would help clarify the "conditions" of the UN mission and "elaborate on the rules of engagement."

"Annan's contribution will be helpful for decisions," said Steinmeier.

Germany was also making an "important" effort by deploying a "considerable maritime component" to protect Lebanon's coastline, said Steinmeier.

This would help convince Israel to lift its sea blockade of Lebanon and help stop deliveries of weapons to Hezbollah, he said.

The German Foreign Minister said further help from Berlin to step up security controls at Lebanon's harbours and airports was also in the pipeline, adding that this would further help prevent arms supplies from reaching Hezbollah fighters.

EU diplomats say that in addition to making firm pledges of troops to the UN mission, discussions will focus on the soldiers' rules of engagement and the precise mandate of the force.

Currently, both France and Italy have offered to take charge of the mission.

However, it is still not clear just how many European soldiers will take part in the mission.

Annan said that although he expected EU troop pledges, the 15,000 strong international force would not be totally ready on Friday.

Europe's role in the UN mission was boosted Thursday after French President Jacques Chirac said an additional 1,600 French soldiers would be deployed in southern Lebanon to reinforce the current UN mission. This will bring the total number of French troops in the country to 2,000.

Italy has also offered between 2,000 and 3,000 troops while Spain has said it will deploy between 700 and 800 soldiers.

However, both Germany and Britain have declined to send any ground troops to Lebanon.

The talks in Brussels are being chaired by Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, whose country holds the current EU presidency.

Plans to boost the current UN mission in southern Lebanon were agreed on August 11 under Security Council Resolution 1701 which ended fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants.

DPA

Subject: German news

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