France to lead beefed-up UN force in Lebanon

14th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 14, 2006 (AFP) - France and Italy are leading the scramble to beef up the small UN monitoring force in southern Lebanon which will be key to making the tenuous ceasefire that started Monday durable.

PARIS, Aug 14, 2006 (AFP) - France and Italy are leading the scramble to beef up the small UN monitoring force in southern Lebanon which will be key to making the tenuous ceasefire that started Monday durable.

Under UN Security Council Resolution 1701, unanimously adopted Friday, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is to swell from its current 1,990-strong force to 15,000 international troops.

Here is a provisional breakdown of countries prepared to contribute troops:


French President Jacques Chirac, whose country drafted the UN resolution with the United States, has said France will assume its responsibilities, "particularly concerning the new UNIFIL force."

Reports say France would command the UNIFIL deployment.

The defence ministry has said it is "too early" to put a figure to France's troop contribution, although press reports have spoken of several thousand.

One French official, speaking anonymously, said 4,000 "seems a feasible number," while a military source said the actual number of French soldiers in Lebanon would likely be around 2,500.

A French military planning officer was due to arrive at the UN peacekeeping operations department in New York Monday. In addition, five military engineers were expected in Lebanon to assess road transport reconstruction needs.


Italy has agreed to send some troops, according to both the Lebanese and Israeli governments.

Italian defence officials cited by the media have spoken of between 2,000 and 3,000 soldiers. The government is to meet on Friday to set out the details of the mission.


Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has said the country will send a battalion of 1,000 soldiers once the UN gives the green light.


Russia is considering the possibility of participating but the foreign ministry said a decision had not been made.


Belgian Defence Minister Andre Flahaut told AFP that Brussels intended to send troops but it was unclear how many because the mandate had not yet been defined.


A government official told AFP Spain planned to send 700 soldiers.

Defence Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said in a radio interview Monday: "It is especially important to arrive at a peace and Spain, as a member of the United Nations, is ready to help out."


Germany's interior and defence ministers have said they are in favour of contributing soldiers, but no number has been advanced and parliament has yet to vote on any deployment.


Portugal has said it is willing to contribute troops, without specifying how many.


Thailand has said it would consider "positively" a UN request for troops, without giving a number.


These three Muslim countries have all agreed to take part, according to the Lebanese prime minister's office, but Turkey indicated Monday that it would wait for an expected new UN resolution "to bring more clarity." Again, no firm numbers have been given.

These countries are undecided or have apparently ruled out supplying soldiers to the new force:


Australian Prime Minister John Howard has said he was undecided whether to supply troops.

"If we were to make a decision to make a commitment it would be a very small, niche commitment," he said. "We have other responsibilities."


British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said his country's military -- engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan -- is too stretched to be involved in the reinforced UNIFIL deployment.


India said there were no plans to add to its 672 soldiers already serving in the current UNIFIL. A foreign ministry spokesman said: "I see nothing leading to that."


A Norwegian foreign ministry spokeswoman said "it is too early to go into any detail about a Norwegian contribution to a peacekeeping force for Lebanon."


The United States, Israel's closest ally, is thought unlikely to contribute to a force in Lebanon.

Although frantic moves are being made to get the new UNIFIL deployed as quickly as possible, there is no firm timetable. Israel has said its soldiers will remain in strategic positions in southern Lebanon until UNIFIL troops take over.

UNIFIL, under its original mandate, has been in operating in southern Lebanon for 28 years. That rolling mandate was again extended for one month by a UN Security Council vote on July 31. It currently counts troops from China, France, Ghana, India, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Ukraine, under French command.

Under UN resolution 1701, the expanded force is to support the Lebanese army as it takes up positions in southern Lebanon, formerly a Hezbollah-controlled zone, and help in humanitarian work.

The resolution says UNIFIL will "take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces, and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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