Lahoud says nations with military ties to Israel must not be part of peacekeepers

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said Saturday that nations with military ties to Israel must not be part of the UN peacekeeping force that will police a truce along Lebanon-Israel border.

“All that we ask for is that the countries which will send troops must not have military agreements with Israel and that troops be equal in numbers so that no country’s troops dominates the other,” Lahoud said in comments distributed by his office.

“We want UNIFIL to be for all Lebanese, as is the Lebanese army and national resistance [Hizbollah],” he said. UNIFIL is the UN Interim Force In Lebanon, the 2,000-member peacekeeping contingent which is to be expanded to a 15,000-strong force under the UN resolution that ended 34 days of fighting between Hizbollah fighters and Israeli forces on Aug. 14.

It was not clear whether Lahoud’s position was that of the government of Lebanon. He is a political rival of the parliamentary majority which backs Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

A visiting UN delegation, UNIFIL and Lebanese army officers will meet with Siniora later Saturday to discuss issues relating to the deployment of the UN force.

In a report Friday to the UN Security Council on implementation of the Aug. 11 UN resolution calling for an end to the brutal Israeli-Hizbollah conflict, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan appealed to member states to provide desperately needed peacekeepers. A key concern of many countries is whether the UN force will be called on to disarm Hizbollah fighters, as called for in a September 2004 UN resolution. They want to study the rules of engagement and concept of operations for the force, which were distributed Friday, before making a decision on troops.

Annan appealed to European countries Friday to contribute troops to the expanded UN force to balance the commitments from Muslim countries so that both Israel and Lebanon will view it as legitimate. On Saturday, French President Jaques Chirac discussed the composition and future mandate of the expanded UNIFIL force with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, his office said in a statement.

“Regarding the composition of the reinforced UNIFIL, the president insisted on the essential balance of the distribution of contingents, which must reflect the involvement of the whole international community, and in particular of the European countries,” the French presidential palace said. He also stressed “the need to clarify very rapidly the missions, the rules of engagement, the chain of command and the means of the reinforced UNIFIL,” the statement added.

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