French FM calls for meeting to boost UNIFIL force

France on Sunday called for a meeting of European Union countries next week to determine rapidly the number of troops they are prepared to contribute to an expanded UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. "We are asking that Europe express its solidarity towards Lebanon as rapidly as possible," Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told French radio Franco Info in an interview. Douste-Blazy said he has asked Finland, which holds the rotating presidency of the 25-member bloc, to call a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels next week to "find out as rapidly as possible what the different European partners plan to do concerning Lebanon." The United Nations said on Friday that more European soldiers were needed for a vanguard force of 3,500 troops that the UN wants on the ground by Aug. 28 to enforce a cease-fire between Israel and the Lebanese-based Hizbullah guerilla organization. France, which commands the existing force known as UNIFIL, had been expected to make a significant new contribution that would form the backbone of the expanded force.