France stalls on troop deployment to Lebanon

17th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 17, 2006 (AFP) - France, after agreeing to command a boosted UN force in Lebanon, was refusing Thursday to green-light a major troop deployment without clear rules of engagement as a report said it may drastically scale back its role.

PARIS, Aug 17, 2006 (AFP) - France, after agreeing to command a boosted UN force in Lebanon, was refusing Thursday to green-light a major troop deployment without clear rules of engagement as a report said it may drastically scale back its role.

Though widely expected to provide the backbone of the 15,000-man force, France has refused to be pinned down on troop numbers without guarantees on its rules of engagement, mission and methods.

Specifically, France and other potential contributors want to know how far the Blue Helmets could defend themselves if attacked and what role they would play in disarming Lebanon's Hezbollah militia.

The French foreign ministry said it was awaiting the results of a meeting of United Nations member states later Thursday in New York aimed at clarifying these points, before deciding how many troops to send.

"We are waiting for the United Nations to define the framework of operations," said a ministry spokesman.

Paris is seeking guarantees on "the nature of its missions, the rules of engagement and the means this force will have at its disposal" and information on the commitments of other European and Muslim nations, he said.

Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie said Thursday that France — which currently commands the 2,000-strong UN force in south Lebanon — would remain at the helm of the enlarged force until February.

But she refused to give a troop figure and 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.

Le Monde newspaper, quoting UN sources and diplomats, reported that Paris had been poised Wednesday to announce a scaled-back participation of "a dozen officers and a 200-man logistics team" due to such concerns.

The report — on which the French defence ministry refused to comment — said UN officials persuaded Paris to postpone its announcement, fearing a "devastating effect" on other countries considering taking part.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and President Jacques Chirac were to discuss France's position in telephone talks on Thursday, diplomats told AFP.

Though France has given no exact figure, officials had spoken anonymously of sending 2,500 to 4,000 French troops to Lebanon.

Le Monde said Paris' apparent U-turn was due to fears over "reprisals from Syria or Iran", which both support Hezbollah, and a repeat of the "the trauma of Bosnia", where France lost more than 70 troops serving in UN and NATO peacekeeping missions during and after the 1992-95 war.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701, unanimously adopted 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.

France, which has strong historical links to Lebanon, penned the UN resolution together with Washington.

In Lebanon, the French commander of UNIFIL, General Alain Pellegrini, said he expected the first reinforcements to arrive at the start of next week.

No precise timetable has been set for the overall deployment of the force, which is designed to help Beirut assert its authority over an area long dominated by the Shiite Hezbollah militia.

An Israeli military spokesman said Israeli had transferred to UNIFIL half the zones it had been occupying in southern Lebanon, adding that this was part of a "process that will take place in stages".

Meanwhile the Lebanese army Thursday started deploying in force to the south for the first time in decades, fulfilling a key demand of the UN Security Council resolution that ended the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

The French foreign ministry hailed the Lebanese deployement as a "significant step towards affirming the sovereignty of the Lebanese state over its territory, in line with UN resolutions."

It also said the start of the Israeli withdrawal had "contributed to reducing tensions on the ground".

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

 

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