EU urged to decide on Lebanon force

EU members are trying to establish details of the size and role of an expanded UN force in Lebanon.

    EU states have agreed to boost the UN's force in Lebanon

    Diplomats were working hard on Thursday to come up with definitive numbers for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) before a meeting between EU foreign ministers and Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, in Brussels on Friday.

    Annan wants Europe to play a leading role in the force that the UN wants eventually to number 15,000 troops and as a result countries are now under pressure to end their indecision over committing manpower.

    Only Italy has pledged concrete support by offering to lead the force.

    Massimo d'Alema, the Italian foreign minister, was due to meet his Israeli counterpart, Tzipi Livni, in Rome after a special Italian envoy held talks with Lebanese leaders in Beirut on Wednesday.

    However, some countries are reluctant to send troops, especially without a clearer mandate from the UN. Memories of the 1995 massacre in Srebenica, which was under the protection of Dutch peacekeepers, are still fresh.

    'Most committed'

    France, Lebanon's former colonial master, in particular has backed away from early indications that it was prepared to play a leading role, offering so far only 200 extra troops to join the 200 French soldiers already in Unifil.

    However, after meeting with Livni in Paris, Dominique de Villepin, the prime minister  said on Wednesday that France was willing to "go further".

    "Today we're the country that's the most committed and present on the ground. We want to go further once conditions are fulfilled," he said.

    Meanwhile, the Finnish foreign minister, Erkki Tuomioja, whose country holds the European Union's rotating presidency, was due to hold talks first in Berlin with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and then in Paris with France's most senior diplomat, Philippe Douste-Blazy.

    The French newspaper Le Monde reported that the UN has addressed many of Paris's concerns and that a larger French contingent could be announced as soon as Thursday or Friday, during a meeting between the French president, Jacques Chirac, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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