50 French troops arrive in Lebanon

UN appeals to Europe to send more soldiers to the int'l force in Lebanon.

germany UN Peace 298 (photo credit: )
germany UN Peace 298
(photo credit: )
Some 50 French Engineering Corps soldiers arrived in Lebanon on Saturday. France has pledged to contribute 200 soldiers to the international force to be deployed in Lebanon as part of the cease-fire agreement between Beirut and Jerusalem. Two hundred French soldiers were already present in Lebanon. The United Nations appealed to European countries on Friday to contribute troops to an expanded UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon to balance the commitments from Muslim countries so that both Israel and Lebanon will view it as legitimate. Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown said there was promising news from Italy and Finland. But he stressed that more European nations are needed for the vanguard force of 3,500 troops that the UN wants on the ground by Aug. 28 to help ensure a truce between Israel and Hizbullah militants in south Lebanon. Italy formally endorsed sending troops to Lebanon but did not commit itself to specific numbers, though Prime Minister Romano Prodi has said the country could quickly send as many as 3,000 soldiers. Finland formally decided to send up to 250 peacekeepers to Lebanon, but said they would not be deployed until November. At a meeting of 49 potential troop contributing nations on Thursday, the only countries to offer mechanized infantry battalions, which will be the front line of the expanded force, were three Muslim countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel - Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia - and Nepal, which is predominantly Hindu. Many countries said they wanted to study the operational plans for the force and the rules of engagement before making any decisions. They include several European countries - Spain, Belgium, Poland, Greece, Portugal and Turkey - as well as Morocco, New Zealand and China, UN diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed. Malloch Brown said all potential troop contributors were being sent copies of the concept of operations and rules of engagement so governments could study them over the weekend and decide whether to contribute to the force. "The core thing that capitals have to get over the hump on ... is that it is not an offensive force, it's not going to go in there and attempt large-scale disarmament" of Hizbullah guerillas, he said. The United Nations said Thursday it needs 3,500 troops on the ground in 10 days to help the 2,000 UN peacekeepers already in Lebanon oversee the deployment of the Lebanese army throughout the south, which Hezbollah controls, and ensure the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops. The UN resolution that led to Monday's cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah after the 34-day war conflict authorized up to 15,000 UN peacekeepers to help the 15,000 Lebanese troops extend their authority into the south for the first time. The aim is to create a buffer zone free of Hizbullah guerillas between the Litani River and the UN-drawn border, about 18 miles (29 kilometers) to the south. Malloch Brown stressed that the final decision on the composition of the force will be made by the United Nations "but as a matter of good form in peacekeeping, you want a force which is broadly acceptable in its composition to both sides." That's why the United Nations has been seeking "a Muslim-European or European-Muslim force" as the core because the combination provides "a legitimacy that satisfies both sides to this conflict," he said. "We want this force that we deploy to have a kind of multinational, multilateral character so that it enjoys the confidence of both sides," he said. "The particular appeal I want to make today is that Europe comes forward with troops for this first wave," Malloch Brown said. Israel's UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman told the AP that "the resolution makes it very clear that the force will have to be agreed on by Lebanon and Israel." "This is a force which the UN can compose but not impose," he said. "Israel has not ruled anybody out, and is not in any way ruling out Arab and Muslim countries," Gillerman stressed. "It would, in fact, welcome the participation of Arab and Muslim countries. However, the participation of countries who are hostile to Israel or do not recognize Israel's right to exist would be unthinkable." Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, whose country chairs the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, said Israel should have no role in deciding which countries make up the force. Gillerman noted that Albar was recently quoted as saying that Hezbollah should be rearmed. "I doubt whether Israel, Lebanon or the Security Council would welcome the participation of soldiers whose mission is to rearm Hezbollah," he said. France, which commands the current 2,000-strong force known as UNIFIL, had been expected to make a significant new contribution that would form the backbone of the expanded force. But French President Jacques Chirac disappointed the United Nations and other countries by announcing Thursday that France would add just 200 combat engineers to its current 200-member contingent in Lebanon. US President George W. Bush expressed some disappointment Friday with France's decision. "We hope they send more. And there's been different signals coming out of France. Yesterday they had a statement; today they had a statement," he told reporters at the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland. The United States has said it will help with logistics and planning, not ground troops. Still, Bush said he would work to convince allies to take part. French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie defended the country's decision to send just 200 additional troops and reiterated that France is willing to continue leading the force. "I can't let it be said or implied that France is not doing its duty in the Lebanese crisis," Alliot-Marie said. Denis Simonneau, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, reiterated that France could always send more troops. In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters "I expect we haven't heard the last from them." Privately, a senior US official said the United States is confident France will increase its commitment, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. Malloch Brown praised Germany's offer of warships which the German ambassador said could patrol and secure the whole Lebanese coast to make sure that weapons or other related materials don't get into Lebanon." Germany also offered customs agents, police and border protection agents to patrol the Syrian border. But Malloch Brown said this was outside the 3,500 troops needed immediately for the vanguard force.