Little sign of progress at UN on Lebanon peace force

22nd August 2006, Comments 0 comments

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21, 2006 (AFP) - Ten days after securing a ceasefire in Lebanon, the UN was still scrabbling Monday to find sufficient troops to maintain the peace amid warnings the fragile truce would not hold indefinitely.

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21, 2006 (AFP) -  Ten days after securing a ceasefire in Lebanon, the UN was still scrabbling Monday to find sufficient troops to maintain the peace amid warnings the fragile truce would not hold indefinitely.

With a looming deadline to get 3,500 peacekeepers on the ground by next Monday, the world body was anxiously trying to get firm troop commitments from European member states, but failed to find a breakthrough.

In New York, UN delegates were holding technical discussions with Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Nepal — the few countries to have already given a firm commitment to put troops on the ground, according to UN sources.

But a more formal "troop generating meeting" that the UN had hoped to convene early this week was awaiting the outcome of talks in Brussels on Wednesday between European Union countries mulling a role in the force.

The Brussels talks are aimed at clarifying the European contributions to the force, which is expected to swell to a troop strength of 15,000 in the weeks after the vanguard force of 3,500 has been deployed.

So far, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Portugal and Spain have expressed willingness to deploy troops, but have fallen short of the offers the United Nations had hoped for.

And although Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi was quoted as telling UN Secretary General Kofi Annan Monday that Italy was available to lead the mission, the offer appeared to be conditional on a new UN resolution.

Prodi said he wanted the Security Council to clarify the force's mandate — something the UN has repeatedly said should not be necessary, while French diplomats for their part said they had not been advised of any new resolution.

France had earlier been considered likely to lead the force but disappointed the UN with a pledge of only 200 extra troops, prompting US President George W. Bush to express hopes that a larger French commitment would be forthcoming.

And despite talks at the UN on Thursday aimed at clarifying the force's rules of engagement and mandate, France has continued to ask the UN for clarification and security guarantees.

The Europeans fear being drawn into renewed fighting between Shiite militia Hezbollah and Israeli forces currently withdrawing from southern Lebanon.

Disarmament of the Iranian- and Syrian-backed militant group is one of the key stumbling blocks, with the United States saying it is a priority, as outlined in a UN resolution passed in 2004.

Bush said Monday there would be a fresh UN resolution giving "further instructions to the international force," throwing up confusion over whether Washington wanted a further UN vote before the peacekeepers deploy.

He made the comments at a hastily-convened press conference, but White House officials quickly warned that he may have misspoken, and it was not immediately clear whether the US was planning to bring a new resolution.

US ambassador to the UN John Bolton later said that while the United States wanted to see Hezbollah disarmed, there was as yet no firm plan to present a new resolution to the Security Council.

He made clear that deploying peacekeepers was the priority. "I think the initial force can be deployed now but it's obviously closely linked and we want the disarming of Hezbollah to be accomplished rapidly," he said.

The fragility of the UN-brokered truce was underscored over the weekend when Israeli commandos launched a raid deep into Lebanon. Israel also reported killing at least two Hezbollah guerrillas late Monday in southern Lebanon.

Meanwhile, UN sources speaking on condition of anonymity said Annan could soon visit countries in the region, including Syria and Iran, as part of efforts to ensure the ceasefire is fully implemented.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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