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15,000 UN troops for Lebanon 'excessive'

Written by: Staff
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PARIS, Aug 25 (Reuters) French President Jacques Chirac said today that sending 15,000 United Nations peacekeeping troops to Lebanon would be excessive.

''My feeling is that the figure that was given at the beginning of 15,000 ... is a figure that is completely excessive,'' he told a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

''I don't know who mentioned this figure but it doesn't really make sense. So what is the right number, 4,000, 5,000 or 6,000? I don't know.'' UN chief Kofi Annan has voiced optimism he would raise 15,000 troops from Europe and elsewhere for the force that aims to maintain a truce between Israel and Hizbollah.

Chirac also criticised Israel's continued blockade of Lebanon, saying it was ''extremely prejudicial to the economy and life in Lebanon. And, in my view, quite unjustified.'' For her part, Merkel said Syria was sending signals which were unhelpful in resolving the conflict between Israel and Hizbollah, the guerrilla group backed by Damascus.

''At the moment we are seeing some very unconstructive signals from Syria,'' Merkel said.

She added, however, that in the long term Syria should be included in any political process to resolve the crisis.

REUTERS KR RS1723

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