Annan Backs Bigger U.N. Force in Lebanon

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 18, 2006; 8:13 PM

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Tuesday for ending the latest Middle East crisis by establishing an international force in Lebanon, saying it would have to be stronger than the largely ineffectual U.N. peacekeeping force that has been there for nearly three decades.

Lebanon _ badly battered by Israeli bombardment in the past week _ has itself sought international help in extending its control to the border with Israel. Backed by Syria and Iran, Hezbollah guerrillas have used south Lebanon as a base to launch attacks and missiles against the Jewish state.

Annan said the Lebanese government needed time to establish full control over the south and that a new force was needed _ one larger and stronger than the existing outfit that numbers 2,000 troops and has lacked a strong mandate.

Annan said the new force would have "different capabilities."

"It is urgent that the international community acts to make a difference on the ground," he said.

Annan provided few details, saying the Security Council "will have to discuss this and define the specific mandate for one to be able to talk in more concrete terms."

John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said that the Security Council shouldn't start talking about sending such a force until it knows how the conflict is going to be resolved.

"I think it's the cart before the horse to talk about applying force before we know what the overall military or political resolution is like to be," he told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.

Bolton said that in examining the possibility of a new force there are a range of questions to be answered, including if it should be empowered to disarm Hezbollah

UNIFIL _ the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon _ was created in 1978 to boost Beirut's authority after the first Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and it has remained, at various levels of deployment, through a second Israeli invasion and an 18-year Israeli occupation of the south; since Israel's May 2000 pullout, UNIFIL has not interfered with Hezbollah's control of the area.

A new force could be larger, better armed, with a mandate to use force and with resolute backing of the major Western powers.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair raised the idea of such a force Monday at the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, calling it the "only way we're going to get a cessation of hostilities" between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

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