France has said that it will initially provide only 200 soldiers for a new UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, which has disappointed some UN officials who had hoped for a contribution of thousands.
Jaqces Chirac, the French president, did not rule out the possibility that France might eventually provide more soldiers and even said that 1,700 French soldiers positioned near Lebanon would be made available to the UN, but would not be placed under UN control.
Diplomats had expected France to provide at least 2,000 men after the central role its diplomats played in drawing up last week's resolution to end fighting in Lebanon. But, the French military is clearly unhappy about rushing into the mission.
Chirac's office said that France was willing to carry on leading an expanded Unifil mission and that once the "immediate emergency" had passed, the UN would decide the precise make-up of the force.
France already has some 200 soldiers in the existing, 2,000-strong UN Interim Force in Lebanon and currently leads the operation.
Meanwhile,Italy has said that it is ready to send between 2,000 and 3,000 of its troops to Lebanon but added that it was waiting for the UN to clarify the new force's rules of engagement.
"Chirac said the mission, the rules of engagement and the means at the disposal of this force still have to be decided; likewise the breakdown of the contingents which have to reflect the engagement of all the international community," the president's office said in a statement on Thursday.
"Chirac said the mission, the rules of engagement and the means at the disposal of this force still have to be decided; likewise the breakdown of the contingents which have to reflect the engagement of all the international community"
The French president's office
France's reticence follows disastrous peacekeeping operations over the past three decades, with its military losing 58 paratroopers in a 1983 bomb attack in Beirut and some 84 soldiers during a mission to Bosnia in the early 1990s.
The UN gave the go-ahead last Friday for the force to rise to 15,000 soldiers to patrol the peace between Israel and Hezbollah. The world body wants to send up to 3,500 men to south Lebanon within two weeks.
During negotiations on Friday's Security Council resolution, France had insisted that the force be under UN control as Lebanon had demanded, while the US preferred a multinational operation separate from the UN.
France is expected to submit a proposal to a meeting in New York on the planned UN force.