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The BBC's Barbara Plett
"The UN is on the move in Southern Lebanon"
 real 28k

BBC's defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus
"France looks set to play a key role"
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Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK
UN assesses Lebanon role

UN peacekeepers to take on a more mobile role
By UN correspondent Mark Devenport

The United Nations special envoy to Lebanon Terje Roed-Larsen is heading for Beirut to ensure that all sides co-operate with the UN's efforts to verify the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

Extra peacekeepers will be sent to the region once the UN has confirmed that all Israeli forces have pulled out.


Larsen
UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen: Guarantees needed

The current peacekeeping force, Unifil, is around 4,500 strong - the reinforcements will bring the force up to just under 8,000.

Mr Larsen has spent the past few weeks holding talks with the governments in the region seeking assurances that they would try to maintain calm and do their utmost to guarantee the safety of UN peacekeepers.

Troop contributing nations such as France have been reluctant to commit extra soldiers unless they had these assurances, fearful that the conflicting parties might use the UN - in Kofi Annan's words- as "a punchbag".

Prisoner amnesty

Mr Larsen said the first issue to be resolved was to what extent the UN demands had been fulfilled.

"That is the withdrawal of Israeli civilian and military personnel and the destruction of installations," he said.



Hezbollah fighters want further Israeli withdrawals

"The second problem is to verify to what extent the South Lebanon Army has been dismantled and whether Israel has repatriated or destroyed all weapons."

In order to meet the UN Security Council resolutions Israel must also release its prisoners.

The peacekeepers will then abandon their current static posts and adopt a more mobile role, patrolling southern Lebanon and helping the Lebanese authorities establish control over their territory.

One potential stumbling block is the area in the Golan Heights known as the Shebaa farms.

Smooth transition

Lebanon claims the farms are part of its territory, whereas Israel says it captured the district from Syria.

The UN has decided that, whilst it is up to Syria and Lebanon to determine the future status of the Shebaa farms, it will not require Israel to withdraw from the district before confirming the withdrawal as 'complete'.

The Lebanese Hezbollah fighters who have been battling Israel have made it clear that they won't be satisfied until Israel pulls back from the Shebaa farms.

The UN hopes the guerrillas will not use this as a pretext to continue their war against Israel, as any further fighting would undoubtedly endanger UN peacekeepers.

The UN does not believe it can mount a peace enforcement operation without the approval of all sides, given the military might of Israel and Syria.

But the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan hopes the transition will proceed relatively smoothly.

He has warned that he may have to withdraw the peacekeepers all together if the conflicting sides fail to exercise maximum restraint and work with the UN.

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See also:

24 May 00 | Middle East
Israel quits Lebanon
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