Lebanon: More work needed to meet troop deadline on UN force, says Annan’s deputy

Lebanon: More work needed to meet troop deadline on UN force, says Annan’s deputy

Mark Malloch Brown
Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown said there had been “a reasonable start” from United Nations Member States participating in today’s meeting of potential troop contributors for an expanded and more robust peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, but that much work remains to be done to achieve the initial deadline of dispatching an extra 3,500 troops to the region within the next 10 days.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Malloch Brown said that about a third of the 23 countries whose representatives spoke during the meeting made “relatively firm commitments,” while another third “made conditional commitments in which they felt there was still a relatively major hurdle to cross,” and a final third “were much more cautious, offering just support in principle.”

Many delegations will need to return to their capitals for parliamentary approval or some other form of acceptance from their domestic governments, he said, before they can issue a clear commitment.

The UN convened today’s meeting of potential troop contributors after the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hizbollah took effect on Monday following last Friday’s Security Council resolution on the month-long conflict in the Middle East.

That resolution called for the existing UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to be given more robust rules of engagement and expanded to include up to 15,000 peacekeepers to support the Lebanese armed forces as they deploy across the south of the country at the same time as Israel withdraws from the area.

Mr. Malloch Brown warned that it was vital to install at least 3,500 troops within the next 10 days because “the current cessation of hostilities is not going to be stable for long. It has to move towards a full disengagement and ceasefire.”

He said some Member States had raised questions about whether their troops, if they were dispatched, would have to take part in hostile or offensive activities against Hizbollah members.

“What we said to them was, ‘Look, this is a prudently designed [set of] rules of engagement, which is non-offensive in character but very much does call on you to robustly use force if it’s necessary.’ ”

Asked about reports that France, which has been discussed as possibly leading an expanded UNIFIL, had agreed to send 200 extra troops, Mr. Malloch Brown said the UN was disappointed.

“We had hoped France would be able to do more. But President Chirac has been very clear with the Secretary-General that France is keeping its 1,700 troops at sea in the area to give logistics support to the Force, it is doubling its current level of contribution, and we’re going to stay in touch on what more is possible.”

The Deputy Secretary-General added that he agreed with a point made by France that UNIFIL’s legitimacy is actually “enhanced if it’s seen as having a number of very significant contributors who between them represent a wider geographic balance than just one lead country.”

He also said that other countries have also come forward and “we’re pretty convinced we’ve got the elements here of a strong force which is very multilateral in character but well able to do the task it will be given.”

Earlier, in his address to the meeting, Mr. Malloch Brown stressed the importance of converting promises into commitments and then turning those commitments into rapid deployments on the ground.

“Every moment we delay is a moment that the fighting could re-erupt,” he said.