Middle East

U.N. Force for Lebanon Has Half Its Soldiers

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European nations agreed to contribute enough new troops to reach about half the United Nations' goal of 15,000 international troops for a peacekeeping mission in Lebanon. Some are expected to be on the ground within a week, but it will take several months for the full contingent to be in place.

France says it will send 2,000 soldiers; Italy has indicated it would provide up to 3,000.

Diplomats say they are pleased to see the European contributions, but they warn that a political, not a peacekeeping, solution is what's really crucial.

There are already about 2,000 troops in Lebanon as part of a long-running U.N. peacekeeping mission. The new troops coming in, with a new mandate, are supposed to strengthen that force. Europe can't contribute all 15,000 needed. But Israel has objected to offers of several thousand troops from majority Muslim countries that don't recognize Israel.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says that three such countries — Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh — have offered competent peacekeepers who could be carefully deployed.

There have been some questions about the troops' exact mission — for example, whether troops will patrol Lebanon's border with Syria in an effort to stop weapons from coming in for Hezbollah.

Syria has said it would consider such a move "hostile." Annan says that international troops would only take on such a job if the Lebanese government requested the help. So far, it has not.



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