U.N. gets offers for peacekeepers

Handful of countries make firm commitments

August 18, 2006|By MAGGIE FARLEY | MAGGIE FARLEY,LOS ANGELES TIMES

UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations scrambled yesterday to assemble a peacekeeping force for Lebanon after an offer of only 200 troops from France, which is expected to lead the contingent.

A handful of countries made firm commitments at a meeting where Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch-Brown asked for 3,500 troops who could arrive in south Lebanon within 10 days to augment the existing U.N. force of 2,000. Italy and Spain, who are expected to be Europe's largest contributors, said they must receive Cabinet approval before making specific offers.

Potential donors questioned U.N. officials closely on the rules of engagement for the peacekeeping force of up to 15,000 troops that was authorized by a U.N. resolution Aug. 11. The U.N. force is to deploy alongside 15,000 Lebanese troops in an area that has been a Hezbollah stronghold as Israeli soldiers withdraw. Yesterday, Israel withdrew from three sectors, as the fragile truce held for the fourth day.

"The current cessation of hostilities is not going to be stable for long," Malloch-Brown said. "It has to move toward a permanent disengagement and cease-fire."

Malloch-Brown said the disarmament of Hezbollah would be left largely up to the Lebanese army. The U.N. force would help block arms or soldiers from entering Lebanon, prevent hostilities from resuming and aid humanitarian efforts. But the U.N. official said there might be times when the peacekeepers need to use force.

Some countries had demanded that their troops have the right to take offensive action if necessary. Others were willing to contribute soldiers if they would not engage Hezbollah.

France's offer of 200 engineers and a backup contingent of 1,700 troops at sea that would not come under U.N. authority fell far below expectations, and U.N. officials feared it would discourage other countries from contributing. France, as the co-sponsor of the resolution and a former colonial power in Lebanon, has led the diplomatic negotiations that led to the halt in fighting on Monday.

"We were disappointed, yes," Malloch-Brown said. "We had hoped that France would be able to do more."

But he said that enough countries stepped forward to make him "relatively optimistic" that the United Nations could get the 3,500 troops on the ground in 10 days.

Bangladesh offered two mechanized battalions, and Indonesia, Malaysia and Nepal each offered one battalion. Denmark volunteered two ships to patrol the coast, and England offered six Jaguar aircraft, two AWAC reconnaissance planes and a naval frigate.

Germany put forward an unspecified naval and air force strong enough "to secure the whole Lebanese coast," said German Ambassador Thomas Matussek. Germany also offered police and border units to monitor the Syrian frontier, all pending approval by parliament.

Italy, Spain, Egypt, Belgium, Monaco, New Zealand and Norway said they would study the rules of engagement before making a decision.

The United States will not contribute ground troops to the international force, said Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones, head of the Pentagon's European Command. But he said U.S. military involvement may include logistics and communications assistance.

Maggie Farley writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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