By Philippe BolopionLe Monde
August 22, 2006
The provisional rules of engagement for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) - a copy of which Le Monde has obtained - authorize the Blue Helmets to open fire to defend themselves, to protect civilians, or to disarm militia that they come across in passing. The 15,000 soldiers, who will be placed under the UN's flag, will nevertheless not have the mission of actively looking for Hezbollah's weapons, nor of interposing themselves should fighting resume.
The 21 page document, marked "UN restricted" and distributed to all the countries involved on Friday, August 18, asserts that the reinforced UNIFIL will operate according to tenets "principally defensive in nature," but that "authorize the use of appropriate and credible force if necessary." These rules of engagement unambiguously preserve the Blue Helmets' "inherent" right of self-defense.
Beyond that, use of force is authorized to prevent the buffer zone between the "Blue Line" and the Litani River being "used for hostile activities," to "resist" attempts to hamper UNIFIL's mandate, or to "protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence." Use of force must nonetheless be "proportionate."
The "Operation Concept," another provisional document marked "UN confidential," clearly establishes that it's up to the Lebanese armed forces to "take control" of the buffer zone and "disarm Hezbollah." However, the UN could develop "effective information operations to counter Hezbollah propaganda."
"We will not actively go looking for Hezbollah's weapons," explains one senior UN official, adding: "But if, during a patrol, we should come upon a cache, our mandate is to seize those rockets." UNIFIL will also establish fixed and mobile checkpoints. "If a truck goes by with weapons, we stop it," explains this UN military official. Then the Lebanese army will be called upon to intervene. "If the vehicle attempts to push its way through, we will use lethal force," he warns.
On a daily basis, the Blue Helmets would have to, according to this source, "patrol the streets, day and night, show their presence, be in contact with what's happening in the area." If UNIFIL observes Hezbollah's men launching a rocket against Israel, it will call on the Lebanese army and should not, according to this source, use force, even though a strict interpretation of its mandate would authorize it to do so.
In the same way, in the event of an Israeli raid on Lebanon and a Lebanese response, UNIFIL would remain "outside." "We would not interpose ourselves, we would attempt to stop them by other means," continues this UN official. "But if Israel targets civilians, we would have to find counter-measures, blocking access routes or putting observers in place, even if it's very dangerous," he asserts.
At Lebanon's request and contrary to Israel's desires, Resolution 1701, which reinforced UNIFIL, does not fall under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which allows a less restricted use of force than Chapter VI, which is based on consent of the parties. But UNIFIL enjoys "a robust Chapter VI," one UN high official explains, according to whom the UN "has taken bits of Chapter VII and placed them in the rules of engagement."
The force command will report directly to the UN Peace-Keeping Head, Frenchman Jean-Marie Guzhenno, himself under Kofi Annan's authority. "The force commandant has a great deal of autonomy," assures the UN official, according to whom "it is not possible to be sitting in New York dictating every move" of the future force.
Paris's Demands Were Integrated in the Blue Helmets' Mandate
During the elaboration of the mandate of the enlarged UNIFIL, the UN "took note of all the changes required by the French," assures one UN military official. The modifications were brought by a French general sent by Paris. "We thought it was what was necessary to have their participation, and we were disappointed when that materialized as only 200 soldiers on the ground," this UN official explains.
As for the 1,700 French troops stationed off the Lebanese coast that Paris says it will put at UNIFIL's disposition, but not under its command, they were "essential" during the war, but are "less useful now." "We need men on the ground," asserts this official, according to whom the rules of engagement can be amended again.
"The UN has developed a lot and learned an enormous amount since Bosnia," he says. A French military source assures that the UN rules of engagement "go in the right direction," but that we are waiting to see the "operational plan" rewritten more concretely with respect to an evaluation of the risks on the ground.
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