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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 August 2006, 20:40 GMT 21:40 UK
France uneasy about mandate
By Alasdair Sandford
BBC News, Paris

The war in Lebanon has given France the chance to shine again on the world stage.

French troops in Beirut to escort evacuees this month
French troops helped evacuate French citizens from Lebanon

Many see the French as natural mediators because of the strong historical ties between the two countries.

France's role in helping to negotiate the UN resolution allowed it to continue mending its relations with the US after the past divisions over Iraq.

President Jacques Chirac was able to deflect attention from domestic problems by focusing on the conflict in his traditional Bastille Day interview.

His Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, flew to Beirut to show solidarity with the Lebanese people and French evacuees.

Last week France sent a ship packed with relief supplies bound for Lebanon.

The good publicity helped both president and prime minister's opinion poll ratings rise by 5%. But the next stage may prove to be a far tougher test.


French troops have been called upon to form the backbone of the strengthened UN force in southern Lebanon.

Ozlem, Parisian estate agent
I've seen what's been happening in England with terrorism threats because of the engagements of its army
Estate agent

Speaking in Beirut, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said France was ready to participate as long as the Lebanese army was deployed in southern Lebanon beforehand.

A survey for the newspaper La Croix found that seven French people out of ten supported the deployment of an international force. However only a small majority - 53% - were in favour of the French military getting involved.

"If it's for peace, I'd have no problem with France intervening," said Estenio, 45, an electrician in Paris.

"France has always been a great power - if she can offer something positive so as to stabilise the region, then that's good."

The poll for La Croix suggested relatively strong backing for a French troop deployment among young people.

But some are afraid of negative consequences back in France.

"I've seen what's been happening in England with terrorism threats because of the engagements of its army," said Ozlem, a 24-year-old estate agent.

"I don't want the same here. Having a French army over there would create tensions with other countries."

Memories of 1983

French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie voiced concern about deploying troops without clearly defined goals.

"France wants the mission's rules of engagement to be clear and it to have real means," she told French TV.

"Sadly, all too often, the United Nations forces don't have the power that they asked for."

The main political parties share such reservations.

Jacques Myard, an MP in France's governing UMP party and a member of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, told the BBC the last UN resolution did not make it clear how France can act.

"I know that a lot of military, high-ranking officials in France are reluctant if this mandate is not very precise," he said.

The opposition socialists have also warned that "extreme vigilance" is needed, saying the UN resolution does nothing to address the conditions necessary for a political agreement that would guarantee the security of peacekeeping forces.

Above all, France wants to avoid a situation where its own soldiers find themselves having to disarm Hezbollah fighters.

In 1983, 58 French parachutists were killed in Beirut when the building in which they were staying was blown up. They too had been part of a multinational peacekeeping force.

France has been trying to obtain guarantees from the Lebanese government, Hezbollah and Israel. It does not want its troops to be powerless observers.

But nor does it want to get dragged into taking part in a dangerous and potentially disastrous conflict.

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