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UN plans new mini-command center for Lebanon force

Written by: Staff
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UNITED NATIONS, Aug 24 (Reuters) The United Nations plans to create a mini-command center of troop contributors to a UN peace force in Lebanon, hoping to allay French fears that they would lack sufficient control over their soldiers.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggested such a ''military cell'' in a report over the weekend and his spokesman said on Thursday the unit would include leading troop contributors as well as UN military officials in New York.

''When this force is created we would have to find some ways to beef up the existing resources of the (UN) military division,'' UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Formation of the new force, considered vital to solidifying the fragile truce in southern Lebanon, has proceeded slowly since the adoption of a Security Council resolution on August 11 calling for 15,000 troops, including the 2,000 now in Lebanon.

The proposed military command was seen largely as a gesture to France, which today vastly raised its proposed troop commitment to 2,000 troops, including the 200 already with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL.

Italy has committed up to 3,000 troops and called a meeting of European Union foreign ministers tomorrow to press for larger contributions from other countries. The current UNIFIL troop commander, General Alain Pellegrini of France, is expected to remain in office, Dujarric said.

The United Nations wants advance contingents of 3,500 in Lebanon by September 3 and the rest on the ground by November.

UN officials and diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one objective of the ''military cell'' was to allow France and other nations to have a hand in decisions made in New York.

But Europeans as well as other troop contributors fear being caught in cross-fire between Israel and Hizbollah and suffering politically unacceptable casualties, diplomats and UN officials believe.

''They don't want to get in the middle of a war,'' said one senior European envoy.

Originally, France and the United States wanted a multinational force, separate from UN command. But Lebanon rejected this and France then pushed for the expanded UNIFIL force, according to participants in the negotiations.

France, Germany and Italy also have questioned draft U.N. rules of engagement issued last week, although Dujarric said no substantive amendments have been submitted.

The United Nations, on the other hand, does not want to be blamed for a mission gone awry that Security Council members designed.

The overstretched UN peacekeeping department is running some 73,000 troops and personnel in 15 nations.

REUTERS VJ BST0114

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