Middle East


U.N. Calls on Europe to Commit Troops

French soldiers of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon patrol the Lebanese port city of Tyre on Saturday. (Photo: Awad Awad / AFP-Getty Images)

After the disappointing commitment by France of only 200 engineers to the newly tasked United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon, U.N. Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown appealed to the rest of Europe to provide troops for a "robust" force.

"The particular appeal that I want to make today is that Europe comes forward with troops for this first wave [of soldiers]," Malloch Brown told reporters in New York on Thursday, referring to the U.N. plan for an initial deployment of a 3,500 troops within the next 10 days. This vanguard would be joined by a further 14,500 U.N. troops at a later date, as agreed to in Security Council resolution 1701.

Italy has committed to send troops as part of the first wave. Although no details had been made available yet, Malloch Brown said that they included "a significant component of frontline troops." Meanwhile, Finland has pledged 250 troops who would be only deployed much later in November.

While European nations have appeared reticent to commit forces until the concept of operations has been further clarified, Asian member states, notably Bangladesh, Nepal, Malaysia, and Indonesia, made firm offerings of troops and mechanized battalions this week.

Malloch Brown cited the importance of "a Muslim-European force because of both groups [who are] interested in this situation. They bring a legitimacy that satisfies both sides of this conflict."

The participation of Muslim countries that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel, notably Indonesia, led to an outcry within conservative circles in Israel.

Responding to the Israeli reaction to the Indonesian commitment of a mechanized battalion and infantry company, Malloch Brown pointed out that "these troops are [to be] deployed in Lebanese territory, not Israeli territory." He did note that a good peacekeeping force was one that was broadly acceptable in its composition to both sides. "We've spoken to the Israelis. I think they're reflecting on it," he said.

Possible troop contributing countries will look over the rules of engagement and the concept of operation distributed by the U.N. on Thursday and decisions are expected on deployments over the next few days.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced in a statement on Thursday that Germany was set to send customs officials to operate checkpoints on the Lebanese-Syrian border to ensure that no weapons were smuggled in. But the officials would not be engaged in combat, according to a statement from Merkel's office.

"I was in a position to offer a rather substantive maritime component which is so encompassing that it could patrol and secure the whole of the Lebanese coast to make sure that no weapons or other related materials get into Lebanon," German Ambassador to the U.N. Thomas Matussek told reporters after the U.N. troop contributors meeting on Thursday.

As a non-combat unit, the German contingent would not be included in the initial 3,500 pledged. Malloch Brown praised this offer and asked for more "enablers" — countries who would contribute support staff, logistics, and supplies, such as medical teams, engineers, and helicopters.

"We have go to reopen the road system both to enable the movement of humanitarian supplies but also to allow our troops to play that monitoring role and get-between-the-combatants role which is so important," he said.

Malloch Brown stated that on the political front, U.N. Special Envoys Terje Roed-Larsen and Vijay Nambiar, who were dispatched during the war to try and mediate between parties, were sent back to the region to oversee talks between the parties, particularly on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701. They are expected to return next week. © IRIN

[This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]