Peacekeeping troops pledged

Europe to send 6,900 to Mideast

August 26, 2006|By New York Times News Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- After a week of confusion and missteps, Europe pledged to add up to 6,900 troops to the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, officials said at an emergency meeting of European Union foreign ministers here yesterday.

But the officials cautioned that the force would not be used to disarm Hezbollah. That job, if it is done at all, will be left to the Lebanese government and army.

The international force, joined by Lebanese national soldiers, is the solution that world powers agreed to after a month of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, an Islamist militia that dominates southern Lebanon. Israel, in particular, wanted a strong European contingent in the force.

But after the force was agreed to, a number of countries said that the rules of engagement were unclear and that they feared their troops would end up fighting with either Israel or Hezbollah. The conflict is partly a local one, over prisoners that each side holds, and the history of Israel's occupation of the region.

The largest contribution to the expanded force came from Italy, which confirmed that it would contribute 3,000 troops and was asked by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to succeed France in command of the force in February. The force seemed unlikely to reach the 15,000-troop level authorized under U.N. Resolution 1701, which ended the fighting in Lebanon.

President Jacques Chirac of France called the 15,000 figure "totally excessive" yesterday. Currently, there are more than 2,000 U.N. troops in Lebanon.

"Europe has lived up to its responsibility," said Annan, who attended the emergency session of EU foreign ministers here.

He said that he hoped several thousand of the additional troops would deploy "within the next few days, not the next few weeks," and that the total force would arrive in three waves extending over several months.

Annan said agreement was reached on new rules of engagement that authorize the peacekeepers to use deadly force against those preventing them from doing their job.

"If, for example, combatants, or those illicitly moving weapons, forcibly resist a demand from them, or from the Lebanese army, to disarm," then armed force could be used, he said. He added, however, that disarming Hezbollah -- a central goal of two U.N. resolutions on Lebanon -- "is not going to be done by force."

Disarmament of Hezbollah "has to be achieved through negotiation, and an internal Lebanese consensus, a political process, for which the new UNIFIL is not, and cannot be, a substitute," Annan said. UNIFIL is the acronym for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

Annan also said the peacekeepers would not be deployed along the Lebanese border with Syria unless the Lebanese government expressly requested them. Syria has said that it would regard such a deployment as a "hostile act," and Lebanon has said it did not want U.N. support in policing the border.

"Our main concerns now relate to the political context in which the U.N. force will operate," Annan said. "The U.N. -- Security Council and Secretariat alike -- is fully seized of the need to move the political process forward, to stabilize the situation and secure a durable cease-fire."

The French are contributing the second-most troops, after Italy. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told the meeting yesterday that France would contribute 2,000 in addition to those already on the ground in Lebanon.

Spain promised a battalion of 1,000 to 1,200 troops, and Poland, which has some soldiers in UNIFIL, said it would add 500 soldiers now and possibly more later, depending on the force's needs.

Belgium said it would send 300 soldiers, and the number could rise to 400. Finland pledged 250.

Germany, Sweden, Greece, the Netherlands and Denmark all offered ships and other naval assets. Britain said it would send Jaguar ground-attack aircraft and Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, in addition to a navy frigate. It also offered to help train and equip the Lebanese military and support enhanced command and control technology for the force.

Annan said that the United Nations had received serious offers of troops from countries outside Europe, including Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh, and that he was consulting with Turkey.

Russia was reported to be considering sending troops, but Defense Minister Sergei B. Ivanov said no decision had been made.

It is unlikely that Russia's military, which is stretched thin, would be able to send a significant force.

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