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UN opens meeting on Lebanon troops

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Sunday August 20, 2006

New York- A United Nations conference opened Thursday for governments to commit troops to the UN Interim Mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL), with the aim of boosting its strength from 2,000 to 15,000 troops to monitor the southern Lebanese truce.

France took the first step by adding 200 troops to the 200 soldiers already serving in UNIFIL. The offer disappointed UN officials, who had hoped that Paris would provide a vanguard of 3,500 troops to be deployed within 10 days to strengthen UNIFIL.

The conference at UN headquarters was attended by 49 governments, including half of the European Union's member nations.

The Beirut government on Thursday began deploying the first of a planned 15,000 Lebanese soldiers to the south.

"The meeting today is a critical step on the path towards a stable and lasting peace," Deputy Secretary-General Mark Mallock Brown told the conference. "Realizing this hope requires not just boldness and visions from the parties to the conflict. It needs the tangible commitment and support of the international community, as well."

Mallock Brown said that he would meet the need of governments contributing troops to UNIFIL to know the rules of engagement and concept of operations in southern Lebanon. Discussion about those issues may also continue next week, as governments would step forward with the number of troops they would commit to the UN force.

"Our firm hope and intention remains to deploy an advance party of at least 3,500 troops to augment the existing 2,000-strong UNIFIL force within the next 10 days, and then to build up to the 15,000 authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1701," he said.

Resolution 1701 halted the fighting Monday in Lebanon between Israeli Defence Forces and the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah. It authorized up to 15,000 UNIFIL troops to work alongside 15,000 Lebanese troops to maintain the ceasefire.

UN officials said they expected more meetings next week to complete the troop contributions to UNIFIL. The main issues of rules of engagement and concept of operations have to be agreed by governments before they would provide troops.

The troops in the existing UNIFIL mission are from China (187), France (209), Ghana (648), India (673), Ireland (5), Italy (53), Poland (214) and Ukraine (1).

Besides adding 200 troops to UNIFIL, Paris said it would place the 1,700 soldiers it actually maintains in Lebanon to evacuate civilians from combat areas as support forces for the UN.

The EU nations attending the conference were Germany, Belgium, France, Britain, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the Czech Republic. Countries that traditionally send troops to UN peacekeeping operations also attended, including India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Turkey and many African nations.

2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agentur