France offers promised 2000 soldiers to the UN in Lebanon

Thursday, August 24, 2006

French ship Mistral is already enroute, carrying 100 engineering vehicles for the UNIFIL.
Deployment of Leclerc battle tanks has been evoked by the French press.

After a meeting with the government and general officers, French President Jacques Chirac announced today that the French complement in the UNIFIL will be increased to 2,000.

"Conditions required by France being fulfilled, I decided to favourably answer the requests of the General Secretary of the United Nations, and of the Lebanese and Israeli governments", Chirac declared; "two more battalions will come to reinforce our deployment on the field within the UNIFIL. 2,000 French soldiers will thus serve under the blue helmet in Lebanon".

Chirac also underlined that the deployment of the 1,700 strong Opération Baliste would continue.

UNIFIL is currently headed by French Major General Alain Pellegrini.

France initially surprised the world by promising to send only 200 more soldiers, after playing a major diplomatic role in settling the cease-fire, and while a reinforcement of the UNIFIL to 15,000 troops had been announced by the United Nations. The press has commented that France is reluctant to send Blue Helmets without clear rules of engagements and guarantees, after the experience of the UNPROFOR in Bosnia, where French soldiers had been forced to witness atrocities without being able to intervene, had been taken hostages without means to defend themselves, and had suffered heavy casualties.

Countries expected to contribute the bulk of the troops to the "reinforced UNIFIL" are France, Italy and Spain; reinforcements are also expected from Belgium and Greece.

President Chirac said that he wanted a "fair repartition of contributions" and called for "other permanent members of the Security Council" to contribute; he mentioned that "Several European partners will do so, as well as important Muslim countries of Asia". Chirac cited United Nations Resolution 1701 by requesting "the release of the abducted Israeli soldiers, the return of the Lebanese prisoners, the delineation of the borders, especially in the Shebaa Farms area".

Lebanese Prime minister Fouad Siniora declared that "the decision from President Chirac helps Lebanon, reinforced her stability, and helps her get back her territory through Israeli withdrawal, and instaur authority of the State in South Lebanon".