French UNIFIL soldier driving damaged armored vehicle in southern Lebanon
A French UNIFIL soldier driving a damaged armored vehicle in southern Lebanon after villagers disarmed a patrol of UN peacekeepers on Saturday July 3, 2010. Photo by AFP
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The United Nations Security Council strongly denounced on Friday recent confrontations between south Lebanese villagers and UN peacekeepers in the area and called for the troops to be allowed to do their work.

Last week villagers seized weapons from French troops in the UNIFIL force and wounded their patrol leader.

That followed a series of standoffs or clashes in the border area, a stronghold of the militant Hezbollah group, and complaints that UNIFIL had stepped up its patrols and was failing to coordinate with Lebanese army forces in the region.

"The members of the Security Council emphasize the importance of not impairing the ability of UNIFIL to fulfill its mandate," said a statement issued after a closed-door meeting of the 15-nation council requested by France.

"They call on all parties to ensure that the freedom of movement of UNIFIL remains respected" and to respect the safety of UN personnel, said the statement read out by this month's council president, Nigerian Ambassador Joy Ogwu.

UNIFIL was set up in 1978 and expanded in 2006 to monitor the end of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah.

UN special coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams said last week there had been several incidents in southern Lebanon and some were "clearly organized." Some Western diplomats say Hezbollah members have encouraged and taken part in the confrontations, a charge the group denies.

Neighboring Israel has criticized the UN peacekeeping operation in Lebanon for not stopping weapons it says are still flowing to Hezbollah guerrillas. The United Nations says that is the responsibility of Lebanese authorities.

The Security Council statement called for Lebanese army troops in the south to be increased.

A Lebanese commander was quoted in the Beirut newspaper an-Nahar on Friday as saying an extra brigade would go to the south to reinforce the estimated 7,000 troops there.

Villagers in south Lebanon have blamed French peacekeepers for the trouble, saying their patrols had become provocative and intrusive, including taking photographs of people inside their houses.

France's UN Ambassador Gerard Araud, speaking after the Security Council meeting, denied that UNIFIL troops had acted incorrectly.

UNIFIL movements had been "completely coordinated" with the Lebanese armed forces several months in advance and the local population had also been informed, he told reporters. French soldiers "were not taking pictures [and] didn't enter into any private property," he said.