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UN's Annan Visits Southern Lebanon, Israel

Kofi Annan (center) touring Beirut's southern suburbs on August 28 (epa) PRAGUE, August 29 (RFE/RL) -- On the second-day of a regional tour to seal conditions for the deployment of a strengthened UN force to southern Lebanon, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is visiting the war-damaged region today before traveling on to Israel.

Annan flew to southern Lebanon from Beirut, arriving by helicopter at the UN peacekeepers' base in the town of Naqura.

There, he met with leaders of the 2,000-soldier force already deployed for decades in the region and told reporters more troops will soon be on the way.

New, Improved UN Force

"We are expecting reinforcements [for the UN force in Lebanon] in the coming days and weeks to join the force and help stabilize the force and facilitate Israeli withdrawal and handover to the Lebanese army," Annan said.
"The main challenge remains what will be the role of the international
force in order to monitor the Lebanese-Syrian border, which is a
fundamental demand of the Israeli government." -- EU envoy

He also stressed the need for the Lebanese and Israeli governments to cooperate in helping the troops deploy in line with the UN resolution that ended the fighting in southern Lebanon on August 14.

"I think it would be important for the two sides to come together first of all to reaffirm the acceptance and speedy implementation of [Security Council] Resolution 1701 and actually cooperate in the withdrawal and the handover process," Annan said.

The planned deployment of up to 13,000 more soldiers will create a new force, UNIFIL-2, with a much stronger mandate than its predecessor.

The force, led initially by France, will draw some half of its troops from European armies. And it will have the right to preempt attacks upon itself as it monitors the southern Lebanon region bordering Israel to assure it is a weapons-free zone.

Annan Touring Region

Still, the success of the planned deployment could be compromised if it does not have the full cooperation of all parties. And that is why Annan is on a regional tour this week to multiple capitals.

In Beirut on August 28, Annan called for Israel to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon. He told reporters that he will discuss the issue directly with Israeli officials when he goes on to Israel and the Palestinian territories today.

Israel has previously said it will only lift its blockade after there is an arms embargo upon Hizballah.

Annan on August 28 also called on Hizballah to free two captive Israeli soldiers.

"I also renew my call for the abducted [Israeli] soldiers to be freed and, as a first step, to be transferred under the auspices of ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross], either to the government of Lebanon or to a third party and we, the UN, will be prepared to play a role if we are required to do so," he said.

The Shi'ite militia's capture of the soldiers precipitated the 34-day Israel-Hizballah war. Hizballah has previously said it will only release the prisoners in an exchange for Lebanese and Palestinian militants held by Israel.

Syrian Border Question

After visiting Lebanon and Israel and the Palestinian territories, Annan is due to go to Damascus and Iran, both of which are main backers of Hizballah.

French troops landing in Naqura on August 25 (epa)

The UN chief has called on Syria to police its own borders with Lebanon to prevent arms smuggling to the militia. But that solution is unlikely to satisfy Israel, which has called for stationing international forces on the border with Syria instead. That is something Damascus says it cannot accept.

The Syrian border remains one of the most volatile issues in maintaining the fragile cease-fire in Lebanon.

European states, which will play a major role in UNIFIL-2, have yet to say what role, if any, the new force should have in helping the Lebanese government secure the Syrian frontier.

"The Lebanese army is deploying at the same time as the UNIFIL has been deploying and there have been regular contacts of liaison between the UNIFIL commander, the head of the Lebanese army and the Israeli armed forces," the EU special envoy to the Middle East, Marc Otte, said today in Brussels.

"The main challenge remains what will be the role of the international force in order to monitor the Lebanese-Syrian border, which is a fundamental demand of the Israeli government," he added.

After talks in Damascus, Annan flies on to Tehran for meetings with Iranian officials on September 2. There he will discuss Lebanon but he is likely to also speak about the Iranian nuclear crisis.

His visit to Tehran will come just two days after the expiration of the UN's August 31 deadline for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.

So far, Iran has given no sign it will comply with the UN resolution passed on July 31 that set the deadline. Instead, Tehran has asserted its right to pursue all aspects of what it calls its purely peaceful nuclear program.

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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