UN peacekeepers to be in Lebanon 'next week'

24th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

24 August 2006, BERLIN/ROME/PARIS - Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, whose country holds the European Union presidency, said Thursday he expected the first additional United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon to arrive next week. The comment came as Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, whose country is likely to lead the new force, said he was convinced that many EU countries would take part in the peacekeeping force. "We call on the international community not to give away this opportunity for p

24 August 2006

BERLIN/ROME/PARIS - Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, whose country holds the European Union presidency, said Thursday he expected the first additional United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon to arrive next week.

The comment came as Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, whose country is likely to lead the new force, said he was convinced that many EU countries would take part in the peacekeeping force.

"We call on the international community not to give away this opportunity for peace," D'Alema said in Rome after meeting Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Livni urged the international community to deploy the international peacekeeping force to Lebanon swiftly.

"It's very important that the international community takes responsibility and applies Resolution 1701 as soon as possible and sends troops," she told RAI News 24 shortly before meeting D'Alema.

Livni was due to meet Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi later Thursday in Tuscany.

Speaking after talks in Berlin with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Finland's Tuomioja declined to give any figures for the number of EU troops anticipated in the planned 15,000-strong force.

The boost was agreed August 11 under Security Council Resolution 1701 which ended fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants.

Tuomioja said he expected concrete figures to be announced at a meeting of the EU's 25 foreign ministers in Brussels on Friday.

Asked when the first additional troops to back up 2,000 United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) soldiers already in Lebanon would arrive, Tuomioja said, "Within a week if possible."

He added however that the full force would not be in place for "two months or more."

Steinmeier said it was now clear that Italy, which has offered between 2,000 and 3,000 troops, would play the lead role in the Lebanese peacekeeping force.

A final decision on Italy's role is expected at the Brussels meeting, which will be attended by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

"Tomorrow's meeting will be very important for the credibility of the EU," said Tuomioja, adding that the EU had a central role in the Lebanon mission. Without Europe, the peacekeeping mission could not proceed.

Both the United States and Britain have declined to send any ground troops to Lebanon. Spain has offered between 700 and 800, and France 200.

French President Jacques Chirac was expected to announce a reinforcement of the French contingent when he appeared on national television Thursday evening, sources close to the government said.

The number that he will likely announce is expected to fall between the 400 French soldiers presently deployed in Lebanon and the 2,000 to 4,000 cited in media reports, the sources said.

Chirac has been widely criticized for announcing a deployment of only 200 additional soldiers in Lebanon following the cessation of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel earlier this month.

However, the French president said he wanted to have the UN peacekeeping mission more precisely defined before deploying additional soldiers.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora earlier Thursday called on Paris to deploy "new troops" to beef up the UN peacekeeping force in the south of his country.

"I will not deny the fact that the people here expected many more than 400 French soldiers," Seniora told Monaco's RMC radio. "The Lebanese want a strong French presence, which would stimulate the other contributing countries to do the same."

Tuomioja also said Thursday Syria was likely to reconsider threats to close its border with Lebanon if the UN stationed troops there.

The move, announced by Syrian Foreign Minster Walid al-Moualem on Wednesday at talks with Tuomioja, could sever Lebanon's ties with the world given that its only land border aside from Syria is with Israel, and Israel has imposed an air and sea blockade of Lebanon since July.

In related news, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in Brussels that the commission was working on a "substantial aid package" for Lebanon.

The package would support the reconstruction of the country and the process of reform in the country, Barroso said without giving further details.

The commission has pledged 100 million euros (128 million dollars) in emergency aid for Lebanon so far, primarily for humanitarian purposes.

DPA

Subject: German news

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