EU to send seven thousand troops to Lebanon

Brussels (AsiaNews) – At the end of an emergency meeting of European foreign ministers, the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said tonight that the European Union has pledged about 6,500-7,000 soldiers for the new UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon.

Mr Annan said that France will continue to lead the force, currently under the command of French General Alain Pellegrini, "until February 2007", then the leadership will rotate to Italy.

The secretary general also confirmed that a new strategic command will be set up within the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) under the command of "an Italian general".

Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, who chaired the meeting, did not provide specific information about each country's troop pledge, but left it up to them to decide when to make it public.

Mr Annan said that now there was a possibility for a "durable ceasefire and long-term solution". He thanked Italy, France and Spain for taking on the task and said he expected that around 3-4,000 troops would be deployed within three or four days.

He also reiterated the point that disarming Hezbollah was the responsibility of the Lebanese government and that UNIFIL will act at the pleasure of the authorities in Beirut.

The same is true for the deployment of UN troops along the border with Syria, from where, according to many observers, Hezbollah gets its weapons.

From Europe the UN chief will now travel to the Middle East where he will meet Israeli and Lebanese leaders as well those of Syria and Iran.

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