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French Version

UN envoy warns of 'security vacuum for the next 2 to 3 months'

Roed-larsen: Unintentional acts could spark renewed fighting

A UN envoy said on Tuesday it could take the Lebanese Army and international troops two to three months to fill a "security vacuum" in Southern Lebanon and warned "unintended" acts could spark renewed fighting.

"There is now a security vacuum which the Lebanese government is trying to fill" with the help of international forces, Terje Roed-Larsen, the top UN envoy on Syria-Lebanon issues, told Reuters in an interview.

"But I think realistically, up to a point, you will have such a vacuum in Lebanon for the next two to three months," he added. "The situation is still extremely fragile ... Unintended incidents can kick off renewed violence, which might escalate and spin out of control."

The UN held a second session of the troop-contributing states late Tuesday in which UN chief Kofi Annan, who on Monday distributed to the Security Council his first report on implementation of the cease-fire, briefed council members on the situation in the Middle East.

The general feeling among diplomats and commentators in New York on Monday was the UN had not yet managed to persuade the European and leading countries in the world organization to send troops in substantial numbers to reinforce UNIFIL.

"The member states that are displaying interest in participating in the force, and particularly the Europeans, are still waiting for clear-cut clarifications from the UN on the question of the rules of engagement under which the troops will operate," diplomats said.

The Arab League delegate to the UN, Yehia Mahmasani, said Tuesday that there was a "quasi-consensus" in the Security Council on the importance of clarifying some tasks entrusted to the international forces.

Mahmasani stressed the importance of controlling the Lebanese-Israeli border, while some countries also highlighted the necessity of controlling the Lebanon-Syria border.

US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said the US "remains deeply concerned by the actions of Syria and Iran, both of whom have repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel."

He said the US insists on the "full implementation of 1701."

Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, who arrived in Lebanon Tuesday after a stay in Israel, said Israel would not launch fresh attacks against Lebanon.

Bot, who is here to discuss with top officials Netherlands' support for Lebanon and the means to implement Resolution 1701, met with Premier Fouad Siniora, Speaker Nabih Berri and Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh.

He stressed that Israel should abide by the resolution and lift the air and maritime siege imposed on Lebanon.

He also said Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz told him he had been misquoted as saying that the war with Lebanon was not over.

Bot said Peretz assured him Israel would not launch any new attacks against Lebanon and that the Israelis "have confidence in the presence of the Lebanese Army and the international forces along the borders."

Bot added his country would not send troops to South Lebanon but sought to help Lebanon "in every possible way."

Salloukh said the Netherlands would donate $8.7 million to help Lebanon rebuild.

EU foreign ministers will discuss possible troop contributions to a UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon at an emergency meeting Friday, the EU's Finnish-held rotating presidency said in a statement.

It added that Annan would attend the talks in Brussels requested by Italy.

"The meeting is to coordinate which member states are sending troops and how much, and to talk about the mandate," Finnish Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Susanna Parkkonen said.

Rome said it saw an overall European contingent of up to 8,000 troops.

Italian Premier Romano Prodi has said his country is willing to lead the force and offered some 3,000 troops but insisted a new Security Council resolution was needed to clearly define the role of the peacekeepers.

Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema was quoted as saying Italy will commit troops to Lebanon only if Israel respects the cease-fire in force.

"From Israel, we expect a renewed commitment ... to respect the cease-fire," D'Alema told the La Repubblica newspaper. "It is right to demand that Hizbullah give up its weapons but we cannot send our soldiers to Lebanon while the Israeli armed forces continue to fire."

France, once seen as a major contributor, has downgraded its offer to just 200 soldiers and other nations are wary about what the mission will entail.

But after strong criticism of the decision, the French Foreign Ministry said the country has no reason to be embarrassed at sending a far smaller than expected contingent to bolster the UN force in Lebanon.

"If you look at the involvement of various countries in UNIFIL today, you will see that France has no reason to blush," Foreign Ministry spokesman Denis Simonneau said.

"We have quite a large presence," he said, adding that France was to date the only country whose reinforcements had reached Lebanon.

"The question is now what are the precise and the detailed missions of the UN forces in Lebanon. What should we do? Under which rules?" he asked.

The French daily Le Monde said it had obtained a copy of a 21-page document laying out the provisional rules of engagement for the force, newly strengthened under a UN Security Council resolution.

The document, not yet approved, was stamped "UN Restricted," the newspaper said. The Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to calls seeking confirmation.

Under the terms being discussed, the peacekeepers would operate mostly defensively, though they would be cleared to "use appropriate and credible force ... if necessary," Le Monde said, citing the document.

The force would be authorized to prevent hostile activities in a buffer zone in Southern Lebanon; to counter anyone who tries to prevent peacekeepers from carrying out their mandate; and to "protect civilians in immediate threat of physical violence," Le Monde said, citing the document.

Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was to leave late Tuesday on a two-day visit to Paris and Rome for talks with senior French and Italian officials on the implementation of Resolution 1701.

She will also press for the immediate release of two Israeli soldiers who were captured on July 12 at the start of the 34-day war, a statement said.

Beirut 23-08-2006
The Daily Star

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