Tuesday

13th Apr 2021

EU to meet on Lebanon force

EU member states are to meet on Wednesday in Brussels to discuss participation in the international peacekeeping force in Lebanon, with governments still reluctant to firmly commit themselves until the rules of engagement are clear.

With the UN pressing the 25-nation bloc to make up the backbone of the troops deployed to Lebanon, the EU's response remains undecided with the different capitals calling for an unambiguous mandate for the troops.

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France, which has angered the UN by only agreeing to send a further 200 soldiers to the area when a commitment of up to 3,500 had been expected, on Sunday called for an extraordinary EU meeting on the issue.

"We ask that European solidarity is expressed as soon as possible about Lebanon", French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told France Info Radio adding that he has asked the Finnish EU presidency to call a meeting on the issue.

Helsinki responded by scheduling the meeting for Wednesday (23 August) with member states expected to discuss the details of the mandate and what governments are prepared to contribute.

French defence minister Michele Alliot-Marie on Friday hinted that the EU's reluctance to commit lies with having problems in previous UN missions.

"You can't send in men telling them: 'Look what's going on, but you don't have the right to defend yourself or to shoot'", she told French RTL radio.

"I'd like to remind you of the experience of painful operations where UN forces did not have a sufficiently precise mission or the means to react," she said.

In Bosnia in the 1990s, soldiers from European countries could not prevent ethnic killing and at times were themselves held hostage by the different factions.

"We are looking for maximum clarity. We want to avoid past mistakes. There are the bad memories of Bosnia. This time we want the answers beforehand, so we don't come to the problems when they have happened," a French foreign spokeswoman is quoted by the New York Times as saying.

While the first French troops - 50 soldiers from an engineering unit - have arrived in Lebanon, Israel has called on Italy to lead the UN force.

"It is important that Italy should lead the international force and send troops to also oversee the Lebanon-Syria border crossings," a statement from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said on Sunday.

The Italian cabinet agreed that the country would send troops on Friday but the exact number remains unclear with talk of up to 3000 troops.

The UN is hoping to get 3,500 soldiers deployed by the beginning of September, with France having made the only definite commitment - of 200 soldiers - so far.

French Major General Alain Pellegrini, who heads the original 2,000-strong UN force in southern Lebanon, has warned about the fragility of the current situation.

He said the region is "not safe from a provocation, or a stray act, that could undermine everything".

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