Friday, August 18, 2006

France backtracks on sending troops to Lebanon.

Middle East: All this after they pushed and said they would lead the peacekeeping force.

PARIS, Aug 18 (Reuters) - France defended on Friday its decision to send only 200 additional troops to a United Nations peace keeping force in Lebanon, insisting it wanted a clearer mandate before committing more soldiers. United Nations officials have openly expressed their disappointment that France hasn't dispatched a much larger force, but Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie dismissed any suggestions that Paris had let down its allies. "I can't let it be said or implied that France is not doing its duty in the Lebanese crisis," Alliot-Marie told RTL radio. France already has some 200 troops attached to the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the new detachment will come from an engineering regiment which will focus on transport and building projects. "They will help the mobility of the UNIFIL troops," a statement said, adding that the force would set sail from France on Sunday initially bound for Cyprus.
But I can't say I blame them though this is an excuse because they agreed to lead even though it was pointed out how vague this ceasefire deal was in the first place.
The French reticence stunned some U.N. officials after Paris played such a central role in drawing up last week's resolution to end the fighting in Lebanon and establish the new U.N. force. During the negotiations France insisted that UNIFIL take charge of the peacekeeping, rejecting U.S. suggestions that the operation should be separate from the United Nations. However, Alliot-Marie said on Friday that problems with recent peacekeeping missions meant France wanted to see the small print before dispatching any more troops. "You can't send in men telling them: 'Look what's going on, but you don't have the right to defend yourself or to shoot'," said Alliot-Marie, who is politically very close to Chirac. "I'd like to remind you of the experience of painful operations where U.N. forces did not have a sufficiently precise mission or the means to react," she added. France lost 84 soldiers during a chaotic mission to Bosnia in the early 1990s while 58 French peacekeepers died in a 1983 bomb attack in Beirut blamed on Muslim guerrillas. The French caution in Lebanon has caused a few raised eyebrows back home, with many people previously taking for granted that France would make up the bulk of the U.N. mission. Le Monde daily said the situation in Lebanon today was very different from Bosnia in the 1990s, when U.N. forces were sent in with the war still raging. It urged the government to make its future intentions much clearer. "If France refuses to make up the backbone of an efficient UNIFIL, which is capable of helping Beirut militarily, it will leave the field free for Hizbollah to rebuild its state within a state," the newspaper wrote in its weekend edition.

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