Belgium Pledges 400 Troops for Lebanon Force

Belgium is sending almost 400 troops to join the expanded U.N. force in Lebanon, including anti-mine experts, medical units and engineers, Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt announced Friday.

European nations were able to take the lead in the Middle East peacekeeping while the United States had lost "credibility" with Arab nations, Belgium's foreign minister said.

"The United States is not able to play an active and open role in controlling and solving the conflict because it has no credibility whatsoever for Arab and Muslim nations as a negotiator or as a provider of neutral peacekeeping troops," Karel De Gucht said in a statement.

"In comparison, the countries of the European Union are acceptable to all parties involved," he added.

EU foreign ministers, meanwhile, met in Brussels with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for talks aimed at raising European troops to take a leading role in the peacekeeping mission, which is expected to involve 15,000 U.N. soldiers.

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Belgium's contingent was likely to total 394 troops and would join a "second wave" of U.N. peacekeepers to be deployed by Oct. 5, Verhofstadt told a news conference.

"Our country will make a substantial contribution," he said.

EU nations have been wary of committing troops without guarantees that their peacekeepers will be able to defend themselves. Participation in peacekeeping missions is particularly sensitive in Belgium following the killing of 10 Belgian paratroopers in Rwanda in 1994, which provoked widespread criticism of the United Nations' mandate and management of the operation.

Verhofstadt said the operation in Lebanon had a "robust" mandate. "The troops will be able to take all necessary measures to defend themselves," he said. Of the Belgian troops, 138 will provide force protection to the engineers and medics, Verhofstadt said.

He expressed hope that the truce in Lebanon would see Hezbollah end violence and take up a political role.

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