By David Rudge
HAIFA (June 20) - Soldiers are beginning to reinforce UNIFIL in preparation for its expected deployment throughout south Lebanon and to the border with Israel, The Jerusalem Post learned last night.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced yesterday that UNIFIL, currently composed of around 4,500 soldiers from nine contributing countries, is to receive an additional 1,200 troops.
The newcomers are slated to include a contingent of about 600 soldiers from Ukraine and a detachment from Sweden, including sappers equipped with mine clearing equipment.
The Post learned that UNIFIL is also purchasing urgently-needed armored personnel carriers and other armored vehicles from Finland as part of the reinforcements for the force. The new vehicles are reportedly equipped with mine-clearing applications and can also withstand explosive devices.
Meanwhile many of the existing contingents are reportedly sending additional troops, especially India which has a 600-strong battalion supervising the eastern sector of the former security zone in south Lebanon.
The Indians are virtually alone in that particular region and it is expected that at least another 200 soldiers will be sent to reinforce the detachment, enabling it to deploy in the extended area under its supervision. UN sources say some of the reinforcements have already arrived and more are expected soon.
Despite Lebanese government objections over what it described as violations by Israel of the UN's withdrawal line, a combined force of 1,000 Lebanese army, police and security personnel is expected to deploy in south Lebanon once the UN has verified Israel's pullback to Lebanon's satisfaction.
Annan said the reinforcements' main task would be to help the Lebanese government take charge of the area vacated by the IDF last month.
"UNIFIL's main task will now be to help the Lebanese government restore its effective authority and assume its responsibility in the area from which Israel has withdrawn," Annan told the UN peacekeepers. "And that, of course, will require you to deploy in places you have not covered up to now."
Annan had gone to south Lebanon after a meeting with President Emile Lahoud, described by Lebanese officials as frosty because of the UN decision to confirm an Israeli withdrawal.
"Lebanon considers the continuing existence of Israeli violations means that the Israeli withdrawal is incomplete," Lahoud said. "Lebanon is awaiting results of the work of the joint UN-Lebanese ground team to announce its final position in this regard."
"Lebanon confirms that the removal of these violations is a step that must precede any redeployment for the UNIFIL (peacekeepers) in the liberated areas," he said.
According to the UN sources, there are still two main sources of contention, the Ha'pa'amonit outpost, north of Moshav Dovev and another IDF position some two kilometers east of Metulla. The sources said that the IDF had been informed of UN concerns over these positions and it had also relayed Lebanon's objections over other points of contention.
In Nakoura, Annan met with UNIFIL commander Maj-Gen. Seth Kofi Obeng, the force's senior political adviser and veteran spokesman Timur Goksel and other senior officers and members of the force.
Goksel said Annan was given a briefing on the work of verifying Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon and UNIFIL's plans to deploy its troops throughout the south of the country using existing personnel.
Annan, who informed Prime Minister Ehud Barak that he expects Israel to respect the UN-determined withdrawal line, is expected to visit Israel tomorrow as part of his Middle East tour.
Reports from Lebanon said the Lebanese government has raised objections over 16 pockets of land that it claimed was inside Israeli territory. Lebanon has also raised objections over Israeli contractors allegedly crossing into Lebanese territory, apparently while constructing a new security fence along the Northern border.
(News agencies contributed to this report.)
© Jerusalem Post, 2000