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Europe to provide backbone of UN force in Lebanon

Europe has agreed to provide ‘backbone’ of strengthened UN force in Lebanon: Annan


25 August 2006 – European nations have agreed to provide over half the troops for the enhanced 15,000-strong United Nations force in Lebanon, Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced today, saying he hoped some of these soldiers could be deployed within days as the cessation of hostilities remains fragile after the month-long conflict between Hizbollah and Israel.

Following a meeting with European Union (EU) ministers in Brussels, Mr. Annan said the region’s decision to send more troops to add to the 2,000 currently serving with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) shows it wants to “assume its responsibilities and show its solidarity with the people of Lebanon.”

“More than half the force pledged today, and not only troops on the ground, but we also got naval assets as well as air assets promised. And when you put it all together, Europe is providing the backbone to the force and I am very, very encouraged by the firm commitments we have received here at this meeting.”

He also told reporters: “The cessation of hostilities is holding, although the situation is very fragile…We may have a unique opportunity to transform the cessation of hostilities into a durable cease-fire and a long term solution.”

European officials said between 5,600 and 6,900 extra soldiers were pledged during today’s meeting, plus sea, air and logistical support, and Mr. Annan said it was vital that an expanded force, or UNIFIL II, be on the ground as soon as possible to implement resolution 1701 that led to the cessation of hostilities last week.

“To achieve that, it is vital that we deploy…strong, credible and robust advance elements of UNIFIL II… and we should deploy, I hope, within the next few days, not the next few weeks. This meeting gives me a strong base to continue to approach other countries to contribute.”

Mr. Annan said he had already received other firm commitments for troops from Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh and was also in talks with the Prime Minister of Turkey, adding that he had asked France to lead the expanded force until next February, when Italy would take over.

Responding to a question from a reporter in Brussels, the Secretary-General said UNIFIL troops were not going to disarm members of Hizbollah, adding that such a process of disarmament can only be done by way of political agreement, rather than force.

Asked about French President Jacques Chirac's reported remark that the figure of 15,000 peacekeepers is excessive, Mr. Annan stressed that "we want a force that is effective and has what is required to get the job done - no more and no less."

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told journalists that Mr. Annan held talks with Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt today and also had bilateral meetings scheduled with German Foreign Minister Franz-Walter Steinmeier, Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja and Javier Solana, the EU’s High Representative for a Common Foreign and Security Policy.

The Secretary-General will now travel to Lebanon and Israel and also the occupied Palestinian territory, as well as to other countries in the region to seek the “constructive engagement of all the players,” he said, stressing that resolution 1701 required the cooperation and support of all. He will also visit Spain before briefing the Security Council on his return.

On 11 August, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 1701, in which it called for an immediate cessation of hostilities – which went into effect on 14 August local time. The resolution also called for the deployment of Lebanese troops, a significantly expanded UN peacekeeping presence across southern Lebanon, as well as the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the same area.

Ends

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