Philippe Douste-Blazy, France’s foreign minister, said on Sunday he had asked the Finnish foreign minister, Mr Erkki Tuomioja, for a meeting so that the European countries could clarify their contributions to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil).
France, the driving force behind the UN resolution that ended the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, has said it will contribute only 200 army engineers to the proposed 15,000 strong international peace-keeping force.
France has indicated that it might send more troops in a second, larger deployment if the UN gives soldiers a stronger mandate to defend themselves.
“We want clarifications from the United Nations on the mission of Unifil, on the chain of command, how it will be organised, how this force should report on its actions and to whom,” Douste-Blazy told France’s Info Radio on Sunday.
Fears of attack
The French government fears that combat troops might come under attack from Hezbollah.
Michele Alliot-Marie, the French defence minister, told France’s RTL radio on Friday: “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’.
UN troop contributions
France: Has sent 200 engineers. Wants to lead the UN mission.
Bangladesh: Has offered two mechanised brigades totalling up to 2,000 soldiers
Malaysia: Has offered up to 1,000
Indonesia: Has offered one mechanised battalion of up to 1,000 troops
Turkey: Government pressing UN for stronger rules of engagement. May offer up to 5,000
Italy: Was considering up to 3,000. No firm decision yet
Spain: Government considering offering 700-800 troops
Germany: No land forces. Will send naval forces to patrol the coast
Finland: Is sending 250 troops in November
Denmark: Is sending two ships. Some ground forces might follow
Nepal: Has offered several hundred soldiers
Bulgaria: No firm decision. May offer several hundred troops
UK: Has offered to contribute air and naval forces
US: Will offer logistical support
“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.
France lost 84 soldiers in Bosnia in the early 1990s while 58 French peacekeepers were killed in a 1983 bomb attack in Beirut by Lebanese Muslims.
On Sunday, 150 French troops left France for Lebanon to join 200 troops already stationed there as part of the existing Unifil mission.
Israel has said that it is disappointed by the small French contribution.
“The disappointing decision to limit to 200 the number of French soldiers deployed to Lebanon has provoked astonishment and confusion,” a senior official in Israel’s foreign ministry said.
“We hope that France has not said its last word,” he said.
“If not, its decision cannot but contribute to bring us a step back, with the re-arming of Hezbollah, which will wait for an opportune moment to restart its hostilities.”
Mark Malloch Brown, the UN deputy secretary-general, said more countries needed to join the peacekeeping force.
The UN wants to have 3,500 soldiers on the ground by August 28. Fifty countries have been approached with a view to contributing.
Amir Peretz, Israel’s defence minister, has reportedly said that Lebanese troops should not be allowed to deploy along the Israeli border until an international force there can guarantee that Hezbollah fighters are not also returning to the area.
“We will continue to prevent the Lebanese army from deploying within 2km [1.2 miles] of the border, before the deployment of the multinational force,” a senior government official quoted Peretz as telling Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.
“Under no circumstances will we allow Hezbollah to approach the border,” Peretz reportedly said.
Lebanese troops have already deployed along parts of the Israeli border, including at the Fatima Gate border point in the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila.
Terji Roed-Larsen, the UN envoy to Lebanon, said the Lebanese army has deployed more than 1,500 soldiers in three sectors of the south where Israeli forces have left.
The 2,000 peacekeepers of the old Unifil mission have set up checkpoints and started patrolling the areas, he said.