Chirac defends tactics for manning UN force

25th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 25, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac said Friday it made "no sense" to deploy 15,000 UN peacekeepers in Lebanon, a figure he said was "totally excessive."

PARIS, Aug 25, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac said Friday it made "no sense" to deploy 15,000 UN peacekeepers in Lebanon, a figure he said was "totally excessive."

"My feeling is that the figure talked about at the start of the debate of 15,000 soldiers for a reinforced UNIFIL was a totally excessive figure," he told a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, referring to the UN mission in Lebanon.

Both leaders also severely criticised Syria, which has threatened to close its border with Lebanon if UN troops move toward the frontier, and called for renewed efforts to reinvigorate the stalled Middle East peace process.

Chirac said deploying such a large UN force alongside the Lebanese army's own 15,000 soldiers, into an area less than half the size of a standard French administrative region, "makes no sense."

He was speaking a day after announcing a total deployment of 2,000 French troops to a beefed-up UN mission, and as European Union foreign ministers met in Brussels with UN chief Kofi Annan to firm up their commitments.

The figure of 15,000 was mentioned in UN resolution 1701, co-sponsored by France, as a maximum deployment to police a fragile ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon's militant Hezbollah movement.

France came under heavy criticism last week after committing initially only 200 extra troops to the 200 already serving in UNIFIL, a limited pledge that dampened hopes of winning significant contributions from other countries.

Chirac defended his tactics, saying Paris had to secure security guarantees from the United Nations on the role and mandate of the force.

"I wonder how it would have been judged if I had raced off like a mad dog without thinking or securing minimum guarantees," he said.

Separately, Chirac and Merkel called on Israel to lift what he called its "completely unjustified" air and sea blockade on Lebanon.

The French leader said the restrictions, imposed on July 12 when the Jewish state launched its military offensive in Lebanon, was "extremely prejudicial" to the Lebanese economy.

"We ask the Israelis to end this blockade," he added.

Merkel said the deployment of German ships off the Lebanese coast, as part of the wider UN mission and aimed notably at preventing weapons shipments to Hezbollah, "could be important in moving towards a lifting of the blockade."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said earlier this week that deploying a UN force rapidly in Lebanon would enable his country to lift the restrictions, which it says are needed to stop weapons reaching Hezbollah.

The French and German leaders meanwhile accused Syria of hampering efforts to ease the regional crisis.

Syria's attitude "enormously complicates our task, it is not a constructive attitude toward the (UN) resolution," Merkel said, to which Chirac said he was "in complete agreement."

"Syria is an old country, an old civilization, a country that counts and which exists, which must be respected," he added. "It is true that, currently, the behaviour of its leaders does not automatically inspire confidence."

Merkel called for the Middle East quartet — the United Nations, European Union, United States and Russia — to retake the initiative in trying to bring lasting peace to the region, saying the roots of the crisis in Lebanon lay in the long-running conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

"We must continue to work on the road map even if it is arduous," she said, referring to an international plan designed to clear the way for the creation of a viable Palestinian state in return for guarantees on Israel's security.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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