unifil 298 88.
(photo credit: )
Commander of UNIFIL (United Nations Interim force in Lebanon) Major-General Alain Pelligrini reiterated on Monday that his force would not be responsible for the dismantling of Hizbullah.
Their main task, he said, was to ensure that southern Lebanon could not be used as a base for attacks on Israel.
"The disarmament of Hizbullah is not the business of UNIFIL. This is a strictly Lebanese affair, which should be resolved at a national level," he said.
"Our mission is to have a zone between the Blue Line and the Litani (River) where there is no illegal army and from which you cannot launch hostile acts." Pelligrini said, referring to the area between the UN-demarcated border with Israel and the river.
Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview last week that Israel's month-long offensive had failed to dismantle Hizbullah and boasted that his armed guerrillas were still in the towns and villages near the Israeli border.
Hizbullah fighters, who have controlled parts of south Lebanon for years, are believed to be lying low and blending in with the local population - as they did before the war.
The weak central government in Lebanon has vowed to re-establish its authority over the Hizbullah stronghold in the south. But Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora has also made it clear the Lebanese troops would not actively hunt for hidden Hizbullah arsenals.
Also on Monday French President Jacques Chirac said that Hizbullah should not keep a military wing.
Chirac's tough statement came as France's Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie visited Lebanon with hundreds of French soldiers about to deploy to the south where they will join the UN force that is tasked with maintaining the cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah.
"No country can live if a part of its territory escapes the authority of its government," the French leader said in an interview on Europe-1 radio.
"It is totally normal there be a wing that expresses politically what the Hizbullah think .... What is questionable, is to express this by force, by armed militias," Chirac said in Paris.
The UN cease-fire resolution that ended the 34-day war on August 14 stipulated that Hizbullah eventually be disarmed, and the French leader said he wanted to see the resolution implemented "without reservations."
But in practice, neither the Lebanese army nor UN soldiers want to provoke a confrontation with the well-trained guerrillas in their southern heartland.
Alliot-Marie told the French soldiers at a temporary base housing them in Beirut they would be carrying out a mission "whose difficulties and risks I am aware of."
But she said their robust mandate and heavy armor, which includes Leclerc tanks, sophisticated Cobra radar systems and 155 mm artillery cannons, would deter aggression.
"To avoid clashes sometimes you have to dissuade (the other side) by demonstrating you are stronger," the minister said.
The French will contribute 2,000 troops, the second largest contingent in the UN force.
France will command it until early next year, when Italy is to take over.
Some 900 French troops who have been staying in Beirut are to begin moving Tuesday to a base in Deir Kifa, east of the port of Tyre. The French deployment to southern Lebanon will take about a week.