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France agrees to head UNIFIL force

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France agrees to head UNIFIL force


France has said it is willing to lead the expanded UN force in Lebanon until at least next February. However a cautious Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie said the UNIFIL troops must be given a clear mandate and strong powers:
“France has been part of the UN presence in Lebanon since 1978,” she noted. “We will continue to be part of that presence, and are ready to take command of the enlarged force until early next year.”

Germany has also indicated its willingness to contribute to peacekeeping in the troubled region. Sending troops is not likely to be an option, but the coalition government is considering helping with humanitarian efforts, reconstruction work or a commitment to secure the Israeli-Lebanon border via sea patrols, according to Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung. He also said that if the UN, Israel and Lebanon asked, Germany would not refuse to help.

Support is also believed to be forthcoming from Turkey. The country’s Defence Minister Abdullah Gül has had a meeting with the son of the assassinated Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A total of 40 nations interested in contributing troops to the UN force are meeting today to hear the rules of engagement. A total of 15 000 soldiers could be on duty in the region as early as next week.

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