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French Peacekeepers Arrive in S Lebanon
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About 50 French soldiers arrived in Lebanon on Saturday as the first reinforcement for an enlarged UN Interim Force to Lebanon (UNIFIL) tasked with overseeing the ceasefire in the Israel-Hezbollah conflict.

France is the first country to deploy additional troops in the region, with 200 more troops expected to arrive next week, said Bertrand Bonneau, a spokesman for the French contingent.

An amphibious assault ship carrying 150 additional French troops and some 100 vehicles were scheduled to reach Beirut or Naqoura on Thursday to join the UN peacekeeping force, according to Col. Christohe Issac, head of the 13th engineering corps.

On Friday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged member states to send troops without delay to reinforce the UNIFIL. The UN wants 3,500 troops on the ground by August 28.

So far, Italy, Turkey and Finland have declared readiness to send soldiers while asking for more details on the precise mandate of the force.

Under a UN-brokered ceasefire which took effect on Monday, 15,000 UN troops are expected to help the same number of Lebanese troops deployed in south Lebanon take control of the area.

(Xinhua News Agency August 20, 2006)

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