Tuomioja chairs EU foreign ministers' meeting on Lebanon
EU countries to put forward troop commitments for peacekeeping force
The foreign ministers of the European Union met on Friday to discuss the number of EU forces to be included in the planned United Nations operation in Lebanon. The ministers convened in Brussels at a meeting chaired by Finland, the holder of the rotating EU Presidency.
Initial estimates are that a force of 15,000 UN peacekeepers will be sent to Lebanon, half of whom would come from EU countries. Finland is planning to send up to 250 soldiers to the area.
Finland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja said on Thursday that convening the entire United Nations peacekeeping force will take at least three months. "A functioning main force should be there in a few weeks", he added. He also said that hopes are that the first UN soldiers might be in Lebanon "within a week".
"It is still difficult to talk about the timetable, as we do not even know what forces the countries plan to send", Tuomioja said on Thursday in Berlin, where he met with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
From Berlin Tuomioja moved on to Paris to find out what France plans to contribute to the effort. "The numbers have fluctuated almost on a daily basis", he observed.
On Thursday evening, French President Jaques Chirac announced that France would be sending 2,000 peacekeepers to Lebanon, instead of the 200 - 400 it had previously committed to the effort.
"There is not much time", Tuomioja said, referring to the fragile two-week-old cease fire on the Israeli-Lebanese border.
Tuomioja sees Friday's foreign ministers' meeting crucial.
One issue that remains unclear is the authorisation to use force. According to German media reports on Thursday, the UN is planning to give the peacekeepers more extensive authorisation to use force than is usually the case. Many countries preparing for the operation have called for this, because it is feared that fighting between Israel and Hezbollah might break out again.
There is no reference in UN resolution 1701 to the parts of the UN charter referring to the use of force. However, Foreign Minister Tuomioja does not see this as a problem: "A mandate exists, and Lebanon and the UN have a common stand on it. The rules on the use of force just need final approval."
Finland has promised to send up to 250 troops to Lebanon.
Finland would like for its forces to be part of a Nordic battalion. Included in such a force would be troops from Finland, Sweden, and Norway.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Syrian Foreign Minister meets Tuomioja in Helsinki (24.8.2006)
Foreign Affairs Committee endorses sending peacekeepers to Lebanon (23.8.2006)
Finland prepares to send engineer company to Lebanon (21.8.2006)
Peacekeeping veteran wants Finland to join UN force in South Lebanon (18.8.2006)
Tuomioja: EU countries prepare for Lebanon peacekeeping force (1.8.2006)