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Annan submits plan to reconfigure UN Interim Force in Lebanon

Annan submits plan to reconfigure UN Interim Force in Lebanon

UN peacekeeper in Lebanon
Secretary-General Kofi Annan today submitted recommendations to the Security Council for reconfiguring the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to bring it in line with prevailing conditions and allow for greater mobility.

In a new report to the Council, Mr. Annan notes that UNIFIL, which was established in 1978, has essentially completed two of its three main tasks: confirming Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon and assisting the Lebanese authorities, to the extent possible, in returning to the areas vacated by Israel. The Force is now focusing on the remaining task of restoring international peace and security.

Pending a comprehensive peace, UNIFIL will concentrate on maintaining the ceasefire along the line of withdrawal, known as the Blue Line, including through close contact with the parties aimed at correcting violations and preventing any escalation. In view of the conditions in the region, Mr. Annan recommends that the Force function with a combination of armed infantry and unarmed observers.

According to the report, "there will be fewer fixed positions than at present to avoid too many personnel being absorbed by guard and maintenance duties."

As of 31 March, the Force was comprised of over 5,700 troops. The reconfiguration envisaged in the Secretary-General's report calls for deploying most troops in protected positions close to the Blue Line, while leaving UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura covered by a separate guard. The demining unit will be maintained "since mines will remain a serious hazard for the Force for the time being."

The Force will eventually comprise 2,000 all ranks, including troops from France, Ghana, India, Italy, Poland and Ukraine. The reconfiguration will be achieved in the course of normal troop rotations. For example, the Secretary-General says he will not request a replacement for the Finnish contingent once it is repatriated.

Mr. Annan proposes that the Force maintain a strength of about 3,600 until January 2002. He adds that "unless there is any drastic change in the region," the reconfiguration could be completed by the end of July 2002.

The Secretary-General also reports on frequent minor breaches of the Blue Line and "almost daily violations of the Line by Israeli aircraft." He adds that he has been "in touch with the parties concerned and other interested parties to urge respect for the Blue Line and to avert further escalation."