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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Lebanese troops move south of Litani

Beirut, 17 August (AKI) - Lebanese army forces have begun to move swiftly into the battle-scarred areas near the Israeli border where they are seeking to set up a demilitarised zone. Army officials said that three brigades had already crossed the river Litani by 0900 am into the areas which have been controlled by militia from the militant Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has allowed the regular forces to move into the region as part of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 which led to Monday's ceasefire after more than a month of hostilities. Senior Lebanese army officials say they expect the all 15,000 soldiers to be in place within 24 hours.

It is the first time Lebanese troops have been present in force in the area since 1969.

It is unclear whether Hezbollah will in any way be disarmed and whether the Lebanese armed forces would engage with Hezbollah guerrillas.

Lebanon's coalition government - which includes Hezbollah - has avoided clarifying what precisely will happen to Hezbollah fighters and their arms now as Lebanese and UN troops arrive.

Meanwhile Israeli troops have begun handing over some territory to the existing UN force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, though the Israeli authorities have said there will not be full withdrawal until the planned more substantial UN peacekeeping force is in place.

A key meeting is scheduled at UN headquarters in New York Thursday of potential troop contributors to better define the mission and the numbers of soldiers required.
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