- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2006

PARIS — The international community was scrambling yesterday to put together a fortified U.N. peacekeeping force for southern Lebanon as Israeli forces began to leave the volatile region.

The United Nations has not received any formal offers of additional troops for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), but France, Italy, Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia have indicated they will make significant contributions. A dozen other countries also have expressed a willingness to help.

“We would like to get firm commitments of troops as soon as possible,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

France is expected to lead the enhanced international force, which is projected to grow from 2,000 to 15,000 troops. An estimated 15,000 Lebanese troops are expected to join the strengthened U.N. force, which is to move south of the Litani River, about 18 miles from the Israeli border.

Senior U.N. peacekeeping official Hedi Annabi said in New York that the United Nations hopes 3,500 well-equipped troops can deploy to Lebanon within two weeks to reinforce UNIFIL.

U.N. officials and diplomats said France has not announced how many troops it plans to send, and this was delaying commitments from other countries.

“It’s a chicken-and-egg situation, as it often is in our efforts to generate a force,” Mr. Dujarric said. “We’re dependent on the member states to come up with firm offers. … We’re in intensive discussions with them, and hopefully we’ll flush out and get some firm commitments.”

France is demanding a more specific mandate for the force, including when it may use firepower.

The resolution authorizes the force to use “all necessary action” to ensure the movement of aid workers and protect civilians in imminent danger, among other situations. But the Security Council said UNIFIL’s mandate could be “enhanced” in a later resolution.

U.N. officials said they were hopeful the first announcements of additional troops will be made at a formal meeting expected tomorrow.

Many questions remain about southern Lebanon’s ravaged infrastructure and the ability of its army to keep the peace between Hezbollah and Israel. France has sent military engineers to evaluate roads and what the Lebanese army needs to deploy in the troubled south, a spokesman for the French general staff said yesterday.

C. David Welch, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said yesterday that the United States does not plan to participate in the force. The U.S. has played a role in past peacekeeping efforts, but “our history in Lebanon has not been a happy one,” he said.

AP Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.

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