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EU: Annan To Meet Foreign Ministers Over Lebanon Force

Kofi Annan says he has "confidence in Europe" (file photo) (epa) PRAGUE, August 25, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is set to hold meetings in Brussels today with EU foreign ministers over the proposed UN peacekeeping deployment in southern Lebanon. The meetings are expected to end with an announcement of which European country will lead the 15,000-strong force.

Annan has come to Brussels expressing confidence that European nations will contribute strongly to the planned deployment.

Speaking to the press today alongside Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, Annan said: "I have confidence in Europe. I am very confident that we will have a successful meeting this afternoon and Europe will assume its responsibility and show its solidarity with the people of Lebanon and in that region."

Who's In Charge?

The meetings in Brussels today should finally give a clear idea of which nation will lead the troops in Lebanon. The two contenders are France and Italy.

France already leads the 2,000-strong monitoring force, UNIFIL, that has long been in southern Lebanon.

But until as recently as August 24, Paris balked at committing to leading, or providing substantial numbers of new troops for, a strengthened force.

That was because France, which was a prime mover in the UN negotiations that 12 days ago led to the ceasefire in Lebanon, felt the mandate for the peacekeeping mission was too vague.

However, French President Jacques Chirac reversed his position late on August 24 in a televised public address from Paris.

"Two additional battalions will expand our force on the ground within UNIFIL," he said. "Two thousand French soldiers will be thus placed under blue helmets [UN troops] in Lebanon. France is ready to continue to be in command of that force if the UN wishes so."

Media reports say that France is now satisfied that the mandate and rules of engagement for the strengthened UNIFIL mission will provide adequate protection for its soldiers.

Sharing Command?

As Paris had hesitated over the mandate, Rome stepped in earlier this week with an offer to lead the 15,000-strong force. But now, as Chirac seeks to regain the initiative, some kind of compromise must be reached.

A report in the Rome daily "La Repubblica" on August 24 said France has offered a dual command with Rome. The newspaper said France would continue to command the force on the ground in Lebanon while Italy would take control of the UN Office of Peacekeeping Operations.

It is unclear whether Italy will see such a shared leadership as a disappointment after Rome's offer to take command.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has expressed satisfaction over what he called the "Rome-Paris alliance," saying it would help the cause of peace in Lebanon.

But a headline today in the opposition newspaper "Il Giornale" was not as upbeat. It reads: "Chirac Downgrades Prodi -- I'm The Commander In Lebanon!"

Italy is expected today to reiterate its offer of 3,000 troops for the enlarged UNIFIL. News reports say Spain could also pledge some 1,000 soldiers. Smaller countries, such as Finland, have also promised contributions.

Germany has offered troops only in policing and support roles. It has cited "historical reasons" for not wanting to risk becoming involved in clashes with Israeli soldiers.

'Mission Not To Disarm Hizballah'

The new UNIFIL deployment is intended to assure that southern Lebanon does not again become a battleground between Israel and Hizballah. The planned deployment is accompanied by the dispatch of 15,000 Lebanese government troops.

Chirac has said he does not see UNIFIL's role as disarming Hizballah, as demanded by Israel.

Israel has yet to say whether it would accept Hizballah's remaining armed. But Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, speaking today in Tel Aviv, reiterated Israel's support for the UN deployment.

"I believe that this is a moment of opportunity to change the situation in the region, but it depends, of course, not only on Israel," she said. "It depends, mainly, on the Lebanese government and on the international community's determination."

Malaysia, Indonesia, and Bangladesh have also offered troops for the enlarged UNIFIL. But Israel has ruled out the presence of soldiers from nations with which it has no diplomatic relations.

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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