United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says Europe has agreed to provide almost half the 15,000 soldiers needed for the U.N. peace force in southern Lebanon. He spoke after attending an emergency European Union summit in Brussels.
Mr. Annan says Europe will provide the backbone of the peace force and he is very encouraged by the firm commitment he received at the EU meeting.
"More than half the force has been pledged today," he said. "Not only troops on the ground but we also got naval assets as well as air assets promised."
The U.N. leader said France would lead the force until February of next year and then Italy would take over. France has pledged 2,000 troops and Italy 3,000. Other EU nations have made troop commitments as well.
European nations wanted a clearly defined mission in southern Lebanon and did not want to get caught in a crossfire between Israel and Hezbollah. A ceasefire is in effect in southern Lebanon following more than a month of fighting that claimed more than 1,000 lives and created tens of thousands of refuges. Europe has been cautious about committing its forces to the U.N. mission because of bad experiences European troops had while serving under weak U.N. mandates in Rwanda and the Balkans.
The new U.N. force will work alongside about 15,000 Lebanese soldiers. About 150 French troops arrived in southern Lebanon Friday, but European officials say it could take up to three months to get all the troops on the ground.
The U.N. leader said he also had commitments from the mostly Muslim nations of Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh about contingents for the U.N. force. However, Israel says that only nations that have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state should be allowed to contribute troops.