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UN Cuts Back Peacekeepers at Israel Lebanon Border - 2001-07-31

The United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to cut back on the number of peacekeepers along the Israeli-Lebanese border. The council also extended the mandate of the U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon for another six months.

Security Council members followed the recommendation of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and voted to reduce the number of peacekeepers along the border by 20 percent over the next few months.

The cutback means 1,000 peacekeepers will be withdrawn from the current contingent of 4,500. Mr. Annan plans further reductions, which will leave only 2,000 U.N. troops in Lebanon by this time next year. The move is intended to change the U.N. presence in Lebanon from a peacekeeping operation to an observer mission.

The cutback reflects U.N. frustration with Lebanon's inability to control events in south Lebanon, since Israeli forces withdrew in May of 2000 after 22 years of occupation. Mr. Annan has urged Lebanon to send troops to the south, without success. Instead, much of the area is now in the hands of Hezbollah fighters. U.N. officials say they do not want the peacekeepers serving as a buffer force between Hezbollah guerrillas and Israeli troops.

Meanwhile, Mr. Annan is expected to announce later this week the next steps to be taken concerning the U.N.'s handling of a videotape made by peacekeepers in Lebanon. A controversy erupted after Israel found out about the videotape, which allegedly shows the vehicles used in the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers in October. U.N. officials were initially unaware of the videotape.