UN troops extend Lebanon stay

UN Security Council members have agreed that UN peacekeepers should keep monitoring the Israeli-Lebanese border for another six months, a key diplomat said on Wednesday.

    Unless renewed, the UN mandate will end on 31 January

    Lebanon had asked for the UN mission's mandate in the border area to be renewed for an additional year, until 31 January, 2007. But the 15 council members instead reached consensus on an extension until 31 July, 2006, said Augustine Mahiga, Tanzania’s UN ambassador and also the council president for January.


    The mandate of the 2000-strong UN Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, will expire on 31 January unless renewed by the council. A vote on a resolution prolonging the mission is expected on Monday or Tuesday, council diplomats said.


    While the mission has been in place since March1978 a draft resolution circulated by France on Wednesday would emphasize "the interim nature" of the mission and stress that the council was "looking forward to the early fulfilment of its mandate."


    The draft would also urge Israel and Lebanon to put an end to violations of their shared border and renew appeals to Lebanon's government to extend its authority across the south, to prevent attacks on Israel from its side of the border.


    Hizbollah control


    The 15-nation council and Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, have regularly pressed the Lebanese government to assert control over the south since Israel pulled out of the region in May 2000, ending 22 years of occupation.


    After the Israeli withdrawal, the militant group Hizbollah came to dominate the area, profiting from a power vacuum there. Hizbollah guerrillas have since sporadically clashed with Israeli forces.


    The council and Kofi Annan have been urging the Lebanese government to disarm Hizbollah, in line with a September 2004 council resolution demanding that all foreign militias on Lebanese soil be disbanded.


    But Hizbollah has refused to do so and last year joined the Lebanese government after a landslide victory in June parliamentary elections. 

    SOURCE: Reuters


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