France to send 200 troops to Lebanon, Hizbullah ready to cooperate with UN forces
French President Jacques Chirac announced Thursday that his county would immediately double to 400 its contingent in the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. Chirac's office made the statement after his phone conversation with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
In the conversation, Chirac said France "will immediately double its current contribution by sending 200 men, bringing its contingent to 400," the statement said. Chirac also told Annan that France was ready to command the strengthened force, which is set to work with some 15,000 Lebanese troops.
Meanwhile, Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Saniora told his Italian counterpart in a telephone conversation Thursday that Hizbullah will cooperate with UN forces to be deployed in the country. The group "accepted (UN Security Council) Resolution 1701 and will cooperate with UN forces," the statement by Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi's office added.
Prodi told Saniora that Italy would join the peacekeeping force after the green light by his cabinet Friday.
Italian defense officials cited by the media have spoken of contributing between 2,000 and 3,000 soldiers but warned that the force needs a clear mandate.
Hizbullah Energy Minister Mohammad Fneish told Lebanon's Al-Balad newspaper Thursday that the deployment of the Lebanese army and UN forces in the south of the country was not a problem for his movement as long as no attempt was made to disarm it.
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