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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Report: France to send only small force to Lebanon

Le Monde reports France will only send 'symbolic' force of 10 officers, 200 troops to region. UN to try and convince country to send more soldiers

France wants to send a small, purely symbolic contingent to the strengthened UN force in Lebanon , and the United Nations is trying to convince French officials that a decision to send so few would be devastating, a French newspaper said Thursday.

Although France has been widely expected to lead the force, Le Monde newspaper reported that it planned to contribute only 10 officers and a contingent of 200 military engineers to the force to stabilize southern Lebanon.

UN officials learned that Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie was planning to announce the small contribution on a television interview Wednesday night and persuaded her to delay the announcement, the report said. Le Monde, which cited unidentified diplomatic sources, said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was expected to call President Jacques Chirac on Thursday to persuade France to make a larger commitment.

Col. Philippe Tanguy, a Defense Ministry spokesman, declined to comment on the Le Monde report, stressing that France believes it is essential to clarify the force's mandate before deciding on a number of troops. A Foreign Ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Defense minister: Force's mandate still 'fuzzy'

The UN force is expected to grow from a current 2,000 peacekeepers to 15,000 under a new Security Council resolution, joining an estimated 15,000 Lebanese troops who are to move south of the Litani River, about 18 miles (30 kilometers) from the Israeli border.

French Gen. Alain Pellegrini heads the UN force, called UNIFIL. The defense minister, in an interview with France-2 television on Wednesday, said the mandate of the strengthened new force is still "fuzzy" and issued a stern warning to the United Nations to spell out its exact mission and rules of engagement.

She said France was willing to continue leading the force through February, but that it was premature to talk about a number of troops.

"When you send in a force and its mission is not precise enough, and its resources are not well adapted or large enough, that can turn into a catastrophe, including for the soldiers that we send," She said.

France is demanding a more specific mandate for the force, including when it may use firepower. UN diplomats and officials say France's reticence to give a number has held up announcements of troop commitments from other countries. Le Monde said UN officials believed it would be "Devastating" If France gave a small contribution, as it would discourage other countries from committing sizable contingents
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