GENERAL: U.N. PEACEKEEPERS NEED TROOPS
By JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press Writer Mon Aug 14, 6:47 PM ET
PARIS - The French general
who leads the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon said Monday he wants reinforcements quickly, warning that even one "stray
act" could unravel a diplomatic effort to halt the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.
Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini,
in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, said a U.N.
Security Council resolution approved Friday could give unprecedented new strength to the 28-year-old UNIFIL
force that often has been criticized as ineffective in the past.
Diplomats and military advisers
were working Monday to decide which countries could help boost the 2,000-strong force to 15,000, as was approved in Friday's
"They need to arrive as
quickly as possible," Pellegrini said. "But before that, there is something that can be done quickly — a deployment
of the Lebanese army" in the battle-scarred region.
The region remains vulnerable
to "a provocation, or a stray act, that could undermine everything," said Pellegrini, who is based in the Lebanese town of
near the Israeli border.
Stephane Dujarric, a U.N.
spokesman in New York, said UNIFIL had sent out a number
of patrols Monday who reported that the situation on the ground was "calm but tense."
"While there have been a
number of sporadic clashes, in general both sides seem to be exercising restraint," he said.
The U.N. plan calls for
a joint Lebanese-international force to move south of the Litani River,
about 18 miles from the Israeli border, and act as a buffer between Israel
and armed Hezbollah fighters.
Disarming Hezbollah is not
the job of peacekeepers and must be "a Lebanese affair," the French general said.
Thousands of Israeli troops
are now deployed in the region after the militant group fired more than 3,500 rockets into northern Israel over the past month. As Israeli forces withdraw, an estimated 15,000 Lebanese
troops are expected to move in — possibly starting as early as Wednesday or Thursday, senior Israeli military officials
said, citing details of discussions with Lebanese authorities.
Pellegrini said a Monday
meeting with an Israeli general and a Lebanese general to discuss implementation of the resolution was "very constructive."
The discussion focused on
the timeline of the Israeli withdrawal and the deployment into south Lebanon,
which was under Hezbollah's control, Dujarric said.
Dujarric said U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan was "working the phones" and spoke to
the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier
Solana, French officials, and others around the world on Monday trying to generate troops for a more robust UNIFIL.
The U.N. Peacekeeping Department
met Saturday with military advisers from 17 potential contributing countries — Muslim as well as European. Another meeting
was scheduled later Monday, diplomats said.
France is expected to lead
the beefed-up U.N. force, but U.N. officials and diplomats said it has not yet made any announcement of how many troops it
plans to send — and that was holding up announcements of troop commitments from other countries.
According to diplomats and
officials, France wants the United Nations to spell out exactly what a more robust U.N. force could and
should do before it decides on the number of troops to contribute.
The blue-helmeted UNIFIL
force is mainly composed of troops from Ghana and India, and about 200 are French soldiers. The force suffered six deaths and 13
injuries during the violence that killed hundreds of people, obliterated roads, buildings and bridges, and sent hundreds of
thousands fleeing their homes, Pellegrini said.
Over the years, the United
Nations Interim Force in Lebanon has been relegated to the role of hapless bystanders — and at times victims —
of intermittent commando raids, attacks and skirmishes across the so-called "Blue Line" separating Israel and Lebanon.
that the peacekeepers have not always been effective over the years, but insisted that the U.N. soldiers had shown they would
not be driven away as the violence raged.
"We were very saddened to
see villages destroyed, columns of refugees, the region totally devastated. Of course, it breaks your heart," he said. "Despite
it all, we kept our flag flying high."