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Monday, 22 May, 2000, 23:58 GMT 00:58 UK
Annan warns of UN withdrawal
army
Israeli allies, the Southern Lebanon Army, withdraw
By Mark Devenport at UN headquarters in New York

The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has said that the turmoil in southern Lebanon could jeopardise the UN's plans after Israeli troops withdraw from the area.

In a report to the UN Security Council, Mr Annan called on all sides to exercise maximum restraint and co-operate with the UN and warned that if they do not, the peace-keeping force in the area could be withdrawn.

Senior UN officials have spent the past few weeks shuttling between Middle Eastern capitals, trying to ensure that all sides cooperate with the UN's peace-keepers when Israel pulls out of southern Lebanon.

The UN plans to boost the force there in two stages - first, to verify that the Israeli withdrawal is complete, then to help the Lebanese authorities re-establish control over their territory.

Double troops

Mr Annan is recommending a near-doubling of the peace-keeping force to just under 8,000 military personnel, but he warned that if the conflicting sides do not exercise restraint the peace-keepers could be withdrawn completely.

"You want us to be a punching-bag in the middle, everybody taking potshots at us and everybody would then blame the UN for everything that we are not responsible for," Kofi Annan said.

"We can only perform our work if the parties co-operate with us - If the parties honour the engagement."

If the UN force remains in place, its most pressing task will be to overfly the Lebanese border to check that all Israeli forces have withdrawn.

The UN is also warning Israel that it will not verify the withdrawal is complete until it is clear that the pro-Israeli South Lebanon Army militia has been completely disbanded.

But the UN has decided that Israel will not have to pull its forces out of the Sheba farms, an area in the Golan Heights which Lebanon claims is its territory, but which Israel says it captured from Syria.

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See also:

22 May 00 | Middle East
Lebanon pullout in chaos
05 May 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Risky strategy exposed
09 Feb 00 | Middle East
Q & A: Southern Lebanon
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