Wed, Aug 16, 2006 - Page 6 News List

UN to rush troops to Lebanon

RUSH ORDER The UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon will be increased to 15,000, and Israel is expected to withdraw `in parallel' with their arrival

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , UNITED NATIONS

Israeli soldiers cross the Israel-Lebanon border back into northern Israel yesterday. A UN-brokered ceasefire aimed at silencing the guns in Lebanon remained fragile as thousands of Lebanese streamed back home to the devastated south and Hezbollah claimed it had emerged victorious.

PHOTO: AFP

The UN on Monday took up the task of creating in record time a strong force to patrol southern Lebanon.

Such a force was called for in the UN Security Council resolution that has halted the fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah militia.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan pursued the subject in telephone conversations with Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, and officials in France, which is expected to be the lead nation in the force, according to Annan's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.

Dujarric said two senior French military officers were coming to New York to help peacekeeping officials plan the force, to consist of 15,000 soldiers, an expansion of UNIFIL, the UN force in Lebanon, which now has 2,000 members.

The expanded UN force is to join with 15,000 Lebanese soldiers in securing the south, and Israel is expected to withdraw "in parallel" with their arrival.

Usually, it takes the UN three months to form a peacekeeping force, but officials said they were hoping to have the first troops of a phased deployment on the ground within weeks.

Peacekeeping officials normally visit the countries offering troops and investigate whether their forces are capable of meeting assigned tasks, and officers from abroad come to the UN to negotiate memos of understanding on financial and other arrangements.

This time, all that is being streamlined or bypassed, the officials said.

The UN conducted meetings on Saturday and Monday to brief military attaches on the responsibilities and needs of the force. More than 40 countries, including both traditional troop contributors and European nations not accustomed to taking part in such missions, showed up, peacekeeping officials said.

In addition to France, countries expressing interest included Italy, Germany, Turkey, the Scandinavian nations, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Jean-Marie Guehenno, undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, said step-by-step coordination with Israeli and Lebanese senior military officers was essential. He said that process began on Monday in a meeting at the border crossing at Ras Naqoura of generals from both sides with Major-General Alain Pellegrini, the commander of UNIFIL.

In an interview, Guehenno said there were particular challenges in shaping a force that would have greater powers and more participation from Western military forces than was usual for a UN force.

"We have to strike the right balance," he said, "where you want the mandate to be sufficiently realistic so that it is achievable, but at the same time you want rules of engagement that are sufficiently robust so that the troops can defend themselves and can discharge the mandate without unnecessary risk."

Formation of the force was a crucial part of the resolution: Israel demanded a mission strong enough to prevent Hezbollah from returning to southern Lebanon, and Lebanon insisted that the force not be empowered in a way that would set up a confrontation with Hezbollah.

Asked if it was being made clear to countries that this force was not responsible for disarming Hezbollah, Guehenno said, "There is a sense that this force has to be robust, and not to be pushed around, has to be able to stand its ground, has to be able to strongly support the actions of the Lebanese armed forces, but this force is not going to engage in a kind of war within Lebanon."

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