– Proposed rules of engagement for an expanded U.N. force in southern Lebanon would allow troops to open fire in self-defense, protect civilians and back up the Lebanese army in preventing foreign forces or arms from crossing the border, according to a U.N. document obtained Tuesday.
The 20-page draft was circulated to potential troop-contributing countries last week by the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which is trying to get an additional 3,500 troops on the ground by the end of next week to strengthen the 2,000 overstretched U.N. peacekeepers already there.
The rules of engagement for the expanded force — obtained by The Associated Press — have held back some potential troop contributors because of concerns that their soldiers would be required to disarm Hezbollah, which has controlled southern Lebanon.
Some countries have also been concerned that the rules would be overly restrictive, all but preventing commanders from making quick decisions — including using force if needed.
While remaining "predominantly defensive in nature," the draft rules allow for the use of "deadly force" and offensive action, if necessary, to ensure implementation of the Aug. 11 U.N. resolution that led to the fragile cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah fighters after a brutal 34-day war.
Although there is no authorization in the Security Council mandate or the rules of engagement to disarm Hezbollah, the rules are sufficiently robust to put the U.N. potentially in conflict with armed groups violating the cease-fire or the arms embargo — including Hezbollah. The rules would also give the U.N. commander on the ground wide-ranging authority to react.
The United Nations got pledges of 3,500 troops for the vanguard of the expanded force last Thursday, but most were from Muslim countries. The U.N. has appealed to European countries to contribute troops to balance the expanded force so that both Israel and Lebanon will view it as legitimate.
France, which commands the current force and was expected to remain in charge, disappointed the United States, the United Nations and many other countries by committing only 200 additional combat engineers to the 200 troops that are part of the current force.
But a well-informed U.N. diplomat said France is considering increasing its commitment, and a high-level meeting is planned Thursday with President Jacques Chirac, the foreign and defense ministers and key military officials. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because no decision has been made.
France may have been spurred to consider a significant increase by Italy's offer on Monday to take command of the force. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has indicated Italy would be prepared to send up to 3,000 troops, but has not made a commitment to specific numbers.
The European Union has called a foreign ministers meeting in Brussels Friday to discuss EU contributions to an expanded U.N. force with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the EU presidency said Tuesday.
Annan will head to the Middle East from Brussels and diplomats said he is expected to visit Lebanon, Israel, Syria and Iran in an effort to promote support for full implementation of the U.N. cease-fire resolution.
It calls for 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers and another 15,000 Lebanese army troops to deploy to southern Lebanon, as Israeli troops withdraw. The U.N. force is also authorized to help the Lebanese army establish a buffer zone in the south and secure its borders to prevent arms smuggling.
President Bush and Annan have urged a speedy deployment of peacekeepers.
Europeans — haunted by casualties on peacekeeping missions from Bosnia to Rwanda and Lebanon itself in the 1980s — are wary of committing troops without guarantees they will not get sucked into a poorly prepared and meekly mandated operation before they make firm commitments.
The draft rules of engagement would allow "use of force, up to and including deadly force, while assisting the government of Lebanon, at its request to secure its borders and other points of entry to prevent the entry into Lebanon, without its consent, of foreign forces, arms or related material."
The rules would also authorize lethal force to "protect civilians under imminent threat of violence, when competent local authorities are unavailable or unable to render immediate assistance." Force could also be used "to ensure the security and freedom of movement of U.N. personnel and humanitarian workers."