China to send as many as 1,000 peackeeping troops to Lebanon
Russia, Pakistan to send engineers, explosives experts; 200 additional French troops arrive in Beirut.
China plans to send a contingent of peacekeeping troops to Lebanon and is consulting the United Nations on the details, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Monday.
The spokesman gave no details but French President Jacques Chirac, whose country is a key player in the UN deployment, suggested that China's contribution may number around 1,000.
"We have a plan to send peacekeeping troops. We're consulting with the United Nations on the specific arrangements and will duly announce the outcome," spokesman Liu Jianchao said.
He was speaking in Helsinki after an Asia-Europe summit attended by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
Around 200 Chinese engineers already work for the UN in Lebanon clearing mines and unexploded ordnance. The UN peacekeeping force is being expanded to uphold a shaky truce between Israel and Hezbollah militants.
Chirac, who was also at the meeting, said Wen had mentioned the plan for more troops in Helsinki.
"Indeed the premier announced yesterday that beyond the 240 Chinese soldiers that are already there in Lebanon clearing mines, they would send a not inconsiderable contribution, because 1,000 men have been mentioned," he told a news conference.
China, growing in confidence on the global stage, has become increasingly involved in UN peacekeeping operations since 2000. At the end of 2005 it had been involved in over 20 UN missions including in Afghanistan, East Timor and Haiti.
The Chinese announcement came two days after Wen pressed European Union leaders to lift an arms embargo in force since Beijing used troops to crush pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989.
Russia, Pakistan to send engineersRussian President Vladimir Putin on Monday gave final orders for a battalion of Russian engineers and explosives experts to travel to Lebanon to aid in reconstruction efforts.
In comments shown on state-run television, Putin instructed aides to prepare the necessary paperwork for Russia's upper house of parliament to authorize the deployment, which will be separate from the UN peacekeeping mission.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said an advance team would travel to Lebanon this week and the full group could be in place by month's end.
It was unclear how many members the team would contain but Ivanov said they would include experts at disarming unexploded ordnance, as well as engineers to evaluate the damage inflicted on Lebanese roads and bridges.
He said the team will work outside of the area where UN-authorized peacekeepers are operating.
"We will not be involved in peacekeeping operations, but will reconstruct the infrastructure in areas outside the United Nations peacekeeping operation zone," Ivanov was quoted as saying by Interfax.
Pakistan will also dispatch army engineers to Lebanon to clear unexploded bombs and mines, the country's government said Monday.
The announcement follows a request for assistance with "battle-area clearance" by the Lebanese government.
Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslan dismissed suggestions that the Pakistanis would serve in the expanded UN military mission that is being deployed in southern Lebanon.
Israel has demanded that Muslim countries that do not recognize the Jewish state not participate in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL.
"This is not a peacekeeping mission," Aslan said. "This mission is being set up at the specific request of the Lebanese leadership."
The issue was first raised on Saturday, when Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz announced the government would send "hundreds" of Pakistani army engineers to Lebanon.
Aziz said that during his visit to Lebanon, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora had requested Aziz provide the de-miners.
A UN spokesman responded to the announcement by saying that Secretary-General Kofi Annan would decide which countries will participate in the force and that he would take Israeli sensitivities into consideration.
But Aslan noted the deal to provide the army engineers was one between Pakistan and Lebanon.
Large numbers of unexploded artillery shells, bombs, and cluster bomblets fired by Israeli warplanes and artillery during the 34-day war still litter fields, homes and streets in southern Lebanon.
Since the August 14 UN-brokered cease-fire, unexploded ordnance has caused dozens of casualties among civilians returning to the region.
Aslan said the Lebanese side had requested Pakistan's assistance with "battle area clearance," including removal of thousands of cluster bombs from several hundred locations in the south of the country, de-mining operations, and with the disposal of those explosives.
200 additional French peacekeepers arrive at Beirut airportA French military plane arrived at Beirut airport Monday carrying 200 soldiers who will join the UN peacekeeping force, airport officials said.
Arriving from Paris, the soldiers headed to a makeshift base in Beirut where 200 French troops who arrived by ship Saturday are already staying, pending the arrival of additional troops later in the week.
France, which currently leads UNIFIL, is expected to boost its contribution to the UN force to 2,000 troops. The entire UNIFIL force is expected to increase to 15,000 soldiers.
The expanded mission aims to support the Lebanese army in strengthening the state's authority along the Lebanese-Israeli border.
A UNIFIL statement, meanwhile, said the force's commander, Major-General Alain Pellegrini, met senior representatives of the Lebanese and Israeli army at a border crossing at Ras Naqoura in south Lebanon Monday.
The meeting, the sixth since the cease-fire came into effect, focused on the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon and the deployment of Lebanese army soldiers in their place.
"I believe that this process is going well and that both sides understand the need to proceed accordingly without any further delay," Pelligrini said in a statement.
Israel has been gradually pulling out its soldiers - whose numbers peaked at 30,000 at the war's end - as international replacements move into place. On Friday, it said it planned to pull the last of its troops out of Lebanon within two weeks.