Bush praises French decision on UN peacekeepers

25th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine, Aug 25, 2006 (AFP) - US President George W. Bush warmly praised France's pledge to send 1,600 more soldiers to join the United Nations force in Lebanon and urged other nations to help as well.

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine, Aug 25, 2006 (AFP) - US President George W. Bush warmly praised France's pledge to send 1,600 more soldiers to join the United Nations force in Lebanon and urged other nations to help as well.

"I applaud the decision of France, as well as the significant pledges from Italy and our other important allies. I encourage other nations to make contributions as well," he said in a statement released Thursday by the White House.

"This is an important step towards finalizing preparations to deploy the United Nations Interim Force of Lebanon," Bush said after French President Jacques Chirac announced the new deployment in a televised address.

Chirac's decision followed international criticism for France's initial "emergency" deployment of just 200 extra troops to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), doubling the French total in the force.

"I welcome President Chirac's decision to send a total of 2,000 troops to Lebanon and to continue to exercise leadership on the ground in enforcing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701," said Bush.

That seemed to signal US support for keeping France, which leads UNIFIL, in charge of the expanded force.

The UN resolution, passed August 11, aims to expand UNIFIL — originally set up 28 years ago as a toothless observer force on the Israeli border in southern Lebanon — from its 2,000-strong force to up to 15,000 soldiers.

"We are working with the United Nations and our partners to ensure the rapid deployment of this force to help Lebanon's legitimate armed forces restore the sovereignty of its democratic government throughout the country and stop Hezbollah from acting as a state within a state," said the US president.

The UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon will seek to police a fragile ceasefire between Israel and the Shiite militia Hezbollah that ended 34 days of fierce fighting.

UNIFIL's new mandate will allow its members to use weapons in self-defense, to protect civilians and to prevent hostile activity in the border area.

Its primary missions are to assist the Lebanese army take control of southern Lebanon from Hezbollah, and to provide humanitarian relief for the one million Lebanese civilians displaced by Israel's offensive.

France is seen as the lynchpin of the expanded force. It has relations with Lebanon, a former protectorate, and Israel, and has lines of communication to Syria and Iran, considered the major sponsors of Hezbollah.

The United States has pledged logistical and command-and-control help, but no boots on the ground.

A UN spokesman said early Friday that the French general in command of UNIFIL will retain his post after the force undergoes expansion.

"General Alain Pellegrini leads UNIFIL and he will continue to do so" with the "very strong support" of Secretary General Kofi Annan, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

The force is seen as crucial in shoring up a tenuous ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah that came into effect August 14 after a 34-day conflict, under the terms of the UN resolution crafted by France and the United States.

Several other countries were now expected to formally announce their troop contributions to UNIFIL.

The foreign ministers from the 25 EU member countries were to meet with Annan in Brussels on Friday to say whether they would also send units.

Earlier, Bush discussed UNIFIL by telephone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Romani Prodi, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said as the US president traveled to his parents' compound here.

"The president underscored that the United States is fully committed to UNIFIL's success and welcomed Italian efforts to achieve a rapid and robust deployment to southern Lebanon," she said.

Bush and Merkel, meanwhile, "agreed on the importance of supporting an enhanced UNIFIL and in humanitarian efforts," said Perino.

Italy has already committed to sending around 3,000 soldiers and even offered to take over command of UNIFIL from France — Chirac, though, said France was prepared to remain in command.

Greece, Finland, Poland and Spain have all indicated they, too, will contribute units, prompting European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso to say Thursday he was "confident that Europe will provide the necessary support to expand the UNIFIL."

In addition, Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia have said they will participate, though Israel was resisting the offer from the latter two because of an absence of diplomatic relations.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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