Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, on Monday urged forward the creation of a 15,000-strong international peacekeeping force for Lebanon, as UN officials worked to agree details of its operations and to secure troop commitments.
“The secretary-general has been working the phones,” Mr Annan’s spokesman said, adding that he had discussed the force on Monday with Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, and with the French government.
Massimo D’Alema, Italy’s foreign minister, said in Beirut he hoped the joint deployment of UN and Lebanese army units could see a withdrawal of Israeli troops from the south of the country in 10 days to two weeks. He also said the first Italian troops to join the enhanced UNIFIL force could arrive in Lebanon “in a few days”.
“The next 10 days are very, very important,” he told reporters after talks with the Lebanese government in which he urged
Lebanon to move ahead with its planned deployment of a further 15,000 troops to the south.
Italy has indicated it is prepared to send 2,000-3,000 troops to the force, while France is expected to deploy the largest contingent of about 5,000. Spain, Germany, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand may also participate.
The German government on Monday said it would have “greater clarity” by Friday on whether it will contribute to the UN international peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, but ruled out any deployment that could involve German troops shooting at Israeli soldiers or civilians. “In the context of our history that is not imaginable,” said a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The UN spokesman said it was expected that the existence of the 2,000-strong UNIFIL force already in Lebanon would help speed the deployment of the planned reinforcements.
UNIFIL’s existing force is currently commanded by a French general, Alain Pellegrini, and as the largest contributor France is expected to retain responsibility for commanding the expanded UN force.
Gen Pellegrini commanded UN and later Nato peacekeeping forces in Sarajevo and Mostar in Bosnia between 1995 and 1996.
Mr Annan on Monday said he was “relieved” that the cessation of hostilities in Lebanon “appears to be generally holding”. He urged Israel and Lebanese to “move swiftly to convert” the end of hostilities into a lasting ceasefire.