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French Version

Murr confirms Lebanese Army confiscated Hizbullah weapons

Circumstances of seizure in south remain unclear

The Lebanese Army has confiscated weapons belonging to Hizbullah in South Lebanon, Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr said on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir in Bkirki, Murr said: "There were reports in the media about the confiscation of weapons ... Those reports were true."

Murr declined to give details about how many weapons had been confiscated and was vague when describing the army's role in disarming the resistance.

"We are carrying out our role as we should. It is our duty to confiscate any apparent weapons," he told reporters.

"The army has two roles: defending the borders and depriving the enemy from any justification to return to South Lebanon," he said. "What we can confirm is that the resistance is cooperating by preventing any armed presence."

Hizbullah has agreed that the Lebanese Army can take possession of any arms "found" in the area.

The resistance group's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said last month that his fighters would keep their arms, to be used only in the event of another war with Israel.

"In three or six months the army will be fully equipped," Murr said, adding that the number of soldiers had increased to 60,000 after the latest crisis.

Hizbullah has repeatedly said that the army is more than welcome to any weapons it finds in the South.

Murr's announcement came as UN peacekeeping spokesman Alexander Ivanko said Tuesday that a meeting between officers from the Lebanese and Israeli armies would take place in Ras Naqoura by the end of this week.

According to Ivanko, the meeting will focus on proposals made by the UN to settle the issue of Israel's occupation of the border village of Ghajar.

The Israeli Army withdrew from all other South Lebanese towns early this month, but has kept troops in Ghajar, refusing to hand the village over to the Lebanese Army or UNIFIL.

"UNIFIL hopes the Israelis pull out from the area as soon as possible," Ivanko said.

Meanwhile, as international troops continue to flow into the South, a contingent of Turkish peacekeepers - the first Muslim troops to take part in UNIFIL - arrived in Lebanon Monday.

A Turkish military plane arrived at Beirut's airport with two vehicles and seven officers on board, part of a 270-man engineering corps to be deployed near the Southern port city of Tyre to help rebuild bridges and roads damaged in the war.

Turkish government spokesman Cemil Cicek said Tuesday that the total number of Turkish personnel would eventually reach around 700, including sailors as well as members of the engineering company.

Turkey has already sent a frigate to help an international naval force monitor the Lebanese coast and plans to send other ships in the future.

Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country with close ties with Israel and Arab states. Its contribution to the peacekeeping force was met with opposition in the Turkish Parliament for fear of Turkish troops being drawn into fighting with fellow Muslims to protect Israel.

Lebanon's Armenian community also has protested the presence of Turkish troops, who are said to invoke Ottoman rule of Arab countries and the 1915 mass deaths that Armenians contend was genocide by Turkey.

Indonesia will delay its deployment of peacekeeping troops to Lebanon by one week for logistical reasons, a military spokesman said Tuesday.

In a related development, the Indonesian government on Tuesday inked a deal worth around $31 million with Renault Trucks of France to purchase 32 French-made armored personnel carriers and ambulances to be used in Lebanon.

The decision to buy the vehicles angered some lawmakers at a time of rising poverty and unemployment and with crucial infrastructure projects stalled due to lack of funding.

The delay in the dispatch of Indonesia's 850-strong force was the second since Indonesia's participation in the mission was confirmed.

"The postponement was due to technical problems faced by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon," said military spokesman Ahmad Yani Basuki.

"The Indonesian contingent was supposed to leave on October 28 but now the new schedule is slated for November 3 or 4," Basuki told AFP.

He said an advance team of around 125 personnel would now leave on October 17, with most of the force leaving in the first week of November. Indonesia had earlier said it expected its team to be on the ground by the beginning of October.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation and was quick to offer troops to the mission to enforce a cease-fire in the fighting between Israel and Hizbullah, which was put into effect on August 14. Israel initially objected such deployment because Indonesia does not have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. UNIFIL troops on the ground currently number about 5,200.

Beirut 11-10-2006
The Daily Star

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