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Lebanon: Details Emerge On UN Force's Engagement Rules

By Jeffrey Donovan

PRAGUE, August 24, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The fragile cease-fire in Lebanon is nearly two weeks old, but there has been little progress in creating a strengthened UN peacekeeping force for Lebanon's troubled south. Few nations have offered troops, arguing that the risky mission's rules of engagement are unclear.

But according to the basic details in an alleged UN draft document published today by the French newspaper "Le Monde," the strengthened UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon will have the authority to shoot to defend themselves, to protect civilians, or to disarm Hizballah guerrillas in their way. 

The draft, which the Paris daily says enjoys the consensus of the main countries involved, lays out the engagement rules for a strengthened UNIFIL -- the 2,000-strong UN observer mission in south Lebanon since 1979 that is now supposed to morph into a major force of 15,000 peacekeepers.

Significantly, the rules of engagement would give the peacekeepers the right to "preventive self-defense."

"The forces will not have to wait until someone shoots at them in order to shoot," says Giovanni Gasparini, a defense analyst at Rome's Institute of Foreign Affairs. "This is a very significant change from the normal situation in which you have a peacekeeping operation."

A lack of clear rules of engagement was the main reason why no country, apart from Italy, had stepped forward with a firm offer of troops. Italy offered to send up to 3,000 troops and to lead a new UNIFIL force:

"I would say that most of the requests that Italy but also other countries, in particular France, made to the [UN] Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which is responsible for drafting the rules of engagement, have been accepted," Gasparini says.

French Reluctance

Perhaps not coincidentally, just a few hours after "Le Monde" published its report on the draft, French officials said President Jacques Chirac would make an announcement at 8 p.m. today stating that Paris could send hundreds more peacekeepers -- up to 2,000, in fact.

Originally, France had been expected to lead the new peacekeeping force, only later to spurn the idea.

Gasparini says France's latest about-face is hardly coincidental. "France played the card of not giving troops in order to gain a stronger mandate and stronger rules of engagement," he says. "It looks like they succeeded. Now that they got the outcome that they wanted, they are more willing to relinquish more troops, also because this has convinced the military of it, and they were a bit skeptical at the beginning."

On August 23 in Paris, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy outlined to reporters the main aims of the new UNIFIL. "The reinforced UNIFIL mission has two very distinct aims: first of all, to support the Lebanese army in its deployment, and secondly, to ensure that the embargo on arms deliveries is enforced along the country's entire border," he said.

Remaining Sticking Points

Syria said on August 23 that it will consider any deployment of peacekeepers along its border as a hostile act.

However, UNIFIL's mandate, as spelled out in Security Council Resolution 1701 of July 11, calls for the force to assist the Lebanese army in securing the Syrian border, not to do that by itself with its own peacekeepers.

The final issue remains the disarming of Hizballah.

According to the report in "Le Monde," the rules of engagement do not call on UNIFIL to actively pursue the militia's disarmament. Instead, the force would be allowed to use force if needed to disarm Hizballah guerrillas that they come across in the course of their day-to-day duties.

"The Israelis cannot ask UNIFIL to disarm Hizballah. It is not written in the mandate," UNIFIL's current commander, French General Alain Pellegrini, told reporters on August 23 in Tyre, Lebanon.

Operational Divisions Of Labor

Meanwhile, the "Le Monde" report lays out a general timeline for the deployment of the force. It says some 3,500 troops would be sent by September 2 with the rest -- 9,500 more -- arriving by November

Both France and Italy have also called for a large contribution of troops from non-EU countries, particularly Muslim ones. However, Israel so far has objected to the presence of troops from countries that don't recognize the Jewish state, such as Indonesia.

If France does return to seek to lead the peacekeeping force, where would that leave Italy's leadership offer?

A report in the Rome daily "La Repubblica" today says France has offered a dual command with Rome. France would continue to command the force on the ground in Lebanon through General Pellegrini, while Italy would take control of the UN Office of Peacekeeping Operations.

That means France would have operational command on the ground, with Italy given political control at the UN in New York.

All these details are due to be discussed on August 25 in Brussels when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan meets with EU foreign ministers.

Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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