German coalition split over offer of troops for UN

14th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

14 August 2006, BERLIN - The mere possibility that Germany might be asked to contribute troops to a beefed-up United Nations peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon triggered wrangling Monday within Berlin's ruling coalition. While key cabinet ministers say Germany has the capability to supply soldiers, politicians in both Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic caucus (CDU/CSU) and her Social Democrat (SPD) partner party are split over the idea. A government spokesman in Berlin announced more time

14 August 2006

BERLIN - The mere possibility that Germany might be asked to contribute troops to a beefed-up United Nations peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon triggered wrangling Monday within Berlin's ruling coalition.

While key cabinet ministers say Germany has the capability to supply soldiers, politicians in both Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic caucus (CDU/CSU) and her Social Democrat (SPD) partner party are split over the idea.

A government spokesman in Berlin announced more time would be needed to settle the issue. Thomas Steg said a decision would be taken next week at the earliest. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was meanwhile heading to the Mideast for talks.

On both the left and the right, there have been warnings that German troops face a no-win situation if they are ever lined up at Israel's border. If they were to harm a single Jewish soldier, memories of the Holocaust would be awakened, critics say.

Israel said more than a week ago it would welcome troops from Germany, which has evolved into one of its key western allies.

Kurt Beck, the leader of the SPD, who does not hold a federal cabinet post, announced Sunday support in principle for a German contribution to peace in Lebanon after discussions with top aides.

But Ludwig Stiegler, the party's federal deputy whip, forecast that one third of SPD parliamentarians would dissent. On Monday, the SPD party presidium, including Stiegler, closed ranks, with a statement that they did not "rule out" a German troop contribution.

In Merkel's camp, the chief dissenter has been her longtime rival, Edmund Stoiber, premier of Bavaria and leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), who said Monday, "I cannot imagine putting German soldiers with a robust mandate to fight on the border with Israel."

He said such a deployment flew in the face of "all common sense and our particular history."

Stoiber, the SPD dissenters and some government aides say the solution might be to provide non-combat personnel to the UN, for example police, medical units or army educators who would have contact with Lebanese only.

The two main ministers involved, Franz Josef Jung at defence and Wolfgang Schaeuble at interior, both say Germany could spare forces.

Jung said Sunday that Germany could not say no if "everyone asks us to help." Schaeuble said Monday in a television interview: "We don't want to refuse. We cannot refuse."

Foreign Minister Steinmeier, who was set to meet Syrian leaders in Damascus on Tuesday, said Israel "evidently does not see German participation as a problem."

A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Mark Regev, told the German public channel ZDF on Monday: "Israel supports European participation and we would be delighted if Germany could resolve to participate in this force. We would welcome German troops."

Government spokesman Steg in Berlin said, "The federal government will consult in the next few days and decide how we can meet our international obligations and what sort of contribution we'll make."

Friday's UN Security Council resolution on Lebanon foresees the 2,000 UN peacekeepers in Lebanon being reinforced by another 13,000 as Israeli troops withdraw from southern Lebanon after the recent fighting with Hezbollah.

DPA

Subject: German news

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