France commits 200 troops to UN Lebanon force

18th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 17, 2006 (AFP) - France on Thursday said it would send 200 troops to reinforce the UN mission in Lebanon, far less than the UN expected for its planned 15,000-strong enlarged force, and called for safety guarantees for its soldiers before making further commitments.

PARIS, Aug 17, 2006 (AFP) - France on Thursday said it would send 200 troops to reinforce the UN mission in Lebanon, far less than the UN expected for its planned 15,000-strong enlarged force, and called for safety guarantees for its soldiers before making further commitments.

French President Jacques Chirac made the offer to double France's current contingent in Lebanon to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan during a telephone conversation Thursday afternoon, the president's office said.

"To respond to the urgent deployment needs of the Lebanese army, the president of the republic announced that France, already present in the ranks of UNIFIL (the UN interim force in Lebanon), will immediately double its current contributions, with the dispatch of around 200 men," it added.

US officials meanwhile expressed confidence that France would play a big role in the peacekeeping force for Lebanon, despite Paris's initial troop offer being lower than expected.

A senior US official said that French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy had spoken by telephone with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and had given no indication France was scaling back its commitment to the force.

Chirac also told Annan that "France was ready to maintain its air and sea deployments off the coast of Lebanon which, with 1,700 men, have provided support to UNIFIL since the beginning of the crisis," the French president's office added.

Chirac said that France was prepared to command the enlarged force but gave no details of whether it would commit more troops.

"The mission, the rules of engagement and the means of this force still need to be detailed, as well as contingent distribution, that has to reflect the commitment of the whole international community," Chirac said.

His statement added that France would make the proposal at a meeting of 49 potential contributor countries at the United Nations headquarters which got underway in New York later on Thursday.

At the talks, the UN outlined what it said were "robust but not offensive" rules of engagement for peacekeepers to be deployed in Lebanon and called for urgent troop commitments from member states.

Many potential contributors to the force, including France, have expressed concern over the role their soldiers will play and have sought assurances from the UN and Lebanon on the conditions of the deployment.

Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie on Wednesday warned the force's deployment could spell "catastrophe" unless its mission was clarified and a large number of Muslim countries were seen to be taking part.

Earlier on Thursday, Lebanon began taking control of its war-torn south for the first time in four decades. Soldiers in jeeps, tanks and armoured troop carriers moved across the Litani river to replace withdrawing Israeli troops.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701, unanimously adopted last Friday, gives a mandate for the UN interim force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to swell from its current level of 1,990 troops to 15,000 as Israeli forces withdraw from the region.

The UN is hoping to send a first deployment within 10 to 15 days, of between 3,000 and 3,500 soldiers.

The current French contingent, known as the Baliste operation, of some 1,700 troops, involves navy operations off the coast of Lebanon with the help or air and land forces.

It was deployed on July 15, three days after fighting broke out in Lebanon, with a mission to evacuate French people, transport humanitarian aid to the Lebanese and provide logistical support to UNIFIL.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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