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Middle East: No Easy Answers On Lebanon Peacekeepers

The coffin of an Austrian officer who was killed in Lebanon on July 25 while serving in the UN observation force (epa) PRAGUE, August 15, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A lot of unanswered questions and not a lot of time -- that, in short, sums up the predicament in deploying the international peacekeepers in southern Lebanon.

As the cease-fire holds in Lebanon, attention is turning to efforts to deploy a vastly strengthened international peacekeeping force in south Lebanon. But complications abound.

The 15,000-member multinational force -- a massive enlargement of the 2,000-strong UN observer force already long in southern Lebanon -- was authorized on August 11 as part of the United Nations Security Council resolution that brought a cease-fire to Lebanon after more than a month of hostilities.

Whose Troops?

But so far, only Italy has publicly stepped forward to offer its troops.

"Italy is ready to contribute to a United Nations peace force that would be deployed in the south of Lebanon to guarantee security and to put an end to the violations of the [border], thereby guaranteeing a stable peace," said Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema on August 14 in Beirut.

"It’s important that the international community commits what it can to the United Nations in order to help us create this mobile and robust force that is needed in Lebanon," a UN spokesman said.

What other countries will contribute troops, how fast the force can deploy, and what its rules of engagement will be -- all this remains unclear. The UN must still negotiate these details, but it must do so quickly if it hopes to keep the fragile peace.

"I think that we have to deploy as soon possible the international force on the ground because it is a condition for the withdrawal of Israeli forces," D’Alema said.

According to the UN resolution, Israel’s approximately 30,000 troops would leave south Lebanon at the same time that 15,000 Lebanese Army troops move into the area alongside the multinational force.

But how soon that could happen is another unanswered question. Some diplomats quoted in the Western media say it will take weeks, if not months, to deploy a UN-backed force.

What Mandate?

On August 14, Lebanon’s communications minister said the Lebanese Army troops could move into the south in a matter of days. D’Alema said Italian troops could deploy within two weeks, although Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi told U.S. President George W. Bush on August 14 that the force’s mandate must be clarified before that could happen.

The resolution authorizes the force to use “all necessary ensure its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind.”

But does that mean the UN-backed soldiers can automatically fire on Hizballah guerrillas or Israeli soldiers in order to prevent “hostile activities"?

The force is also expected to prevent possible arms smuggling, most likely from Syria or Iran.

Will Hizballah Be Disarmed?

But the biggest question remains what to do with Hizballah’s weaponry. Israel has called for the UN force to disarm the Shi’ite militia. But Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on August 14 that his guerrillas will not be disarmed.

UN observers remove the body of a comrade who was killed in an Israeli air strike in southern Lebanon on July 25 (epa)

"We know that the main, true goal of the American and Israel war, which took place in Lebanon recently -- one of its main goals was the disarmament [of Hizballah]," Nasrallah said. "I also ask you to look and listen to what the foreign minister of the enemy said. But the strongest army in the world will not be able to take the arms of Hizballah."

France is reported to be a possible leader of the UN force, contributing up to 5,000 troops. But French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy has said the force’s mission cannot include disarming Hizballah, whose guerrillas killed 58 French peacekeepers in Lebanon in 1983.

The UN resolution calls for the Lebanese military to disarm Hizballah. But even that is not clear. Are the guerrillas to be integrated into the Lebanese Army? Do they become border guards, or return to civilian life?

'A Mobile And Robust Force'

For now, the UN is less concerned with such details than it is with getting nations to commit troops, as Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said on August 14.

"It’s important that the international community commits what it can to the United Nations in order to help us create this mobile and robust force that is needed in Lebanon," Dujarric said. "At this point we have no formal specific commitments from any troop contributors, but obviously we're continuing those discussions."

But to get those troops, the mandate must be clear.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated that point on August 14. Erdogan, after meeting with top generals, signaled that Ankara might take part in the force but needed to know more about its rules of engagement.

The Lebanese government has said Morocco, Indonesia, Spain, and Malaysia have also agreed to participate in some form. But none of those countries has publicly confirmed their interest.

Germany's interior and defense ministers have said that Berlin would also contribute troops, if asked. But observers note that putting German forces in a position where they might have to use force against Jewish troops is problematic, given Germany’s history.

UN Peacekeepers

UN Peacekeepers
UN peacekeepers in Haiti in February 2006 (AFP)

MISSION In cases in which international intervention in regional conflicts is deemed necessary, peacekeeping missions authorized by the UN Security Council provide legitimacy by demonstrating the commitment of the international community to address such crises.

MANDATE UN peacekeeping missions are prepared, managed, and directed by the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The unique mandates of peacekeeping missions falls under the authority of the UN's Security Council and General Assembly, and under the command of the UN secretary-general.

MONEY Funding for UN peacekeeping missions is provided by UN member states. All are legally obliged to pay a share under an established formula. The leading financial providers as of 2006 were: the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Spain, China, and the Netherlands.

MORE All UN peacekeeping missions share the goals of alleviating human suffering and creating conditions for self-sustaining peace. Missions can consist of armed or unarmed military components, depending on their mandate, and various civilian tasks.

Military operations can include:
· Deploying to prevent the outbreak of conflict or the spillover of conflict across borders;
· Stabilizing conflict situations after a cease-fire in order to create an environment for the parties to reach a lasting peace agreement;
· Assisting in implementing comprehensive peace agreements;
· Leading states or territories through a transition to stable government, based on democratic principles, good governance, and economic development.

HISTORY There have been 60 peacekeeping operations since 1948. Fifteen peacekeeping missions were in operation in mid-2006, employing more than 60,000 troops, 7,000 police, and over 2,500 military observers. Peacekeeping operations in 2006 were supported by uniformed personnel provided by 109 countries.

(source: UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations)


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