Lebanon vows to protect peacekeepers

2010-07-09 18:46

Beirut - Lebanese army chief General Jean Kahwaji pledged on Friday that his troops would provide protection to UN peacekeepers, a week after a French patrol came under attack by villagers.

"We commit ourselves 100% to protecting the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) against any attack," Kahwaji told the mass-circulation An-Nahar newspaper.

"There will be no repetition of recent incidents in the south," he said.

"The Lebanese army bears its responsibilities in the south and we must assist the international force and ensure its protection."

Villagers disarmed a French patrol of UN peacekeepers in the southern village of Tuline last Saturday and attacked them with sticks, rocks and eggs before the army intervened.

"The arms were returned to Unifil and the incident is closed," an army spokesperson said at the time.

Right to free movement

Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah, which fought a devastating 2006 war with Israel, has urged the peacekeepers to stick to their mandate in the south following a wave of protests by villagers.

"Unifil should always carry out its role... in a way so as not to arouse mistrust and worry of citizens as was the case during the latest exercises," Hezbollah's number two, Naim Qassem, said in a newspaper interview.

France has called for the UN Security Council to reaffirm the peacekeeping force's right to free movement.

Security Council Resolution 1701, that ended the 2006 war, expanded the mandate of Unifil, which was originally formed in 1978 after Israeli troops entered the south beginning a 22-year occupation.

The resolution also paved the way for Lebanese troops to deploy across the south, which had previously been under the de facto control of Hezbollah after Israel's 2000 pullout.