INTERNATIONAL

Lebanese troops deployed on border



U.N. appeals to Europe for peacekeeping force

Army returns to border after 40-year absenceVillagers extend warm welcome to soldiers

Kfar Kila (Lebanon): The Lebanese army reached the country's southern border with Israel for the first time on Friday, sending a sole jeep on patrol through this village which holds huge significance as the place where Israeli forces withdrew in 2000 and ended an 18-year occupation.

The army jeep, flying a large Lebanese flag and carrying just two soldiers clad in green camouflage uniforms, passed by the Fatima Gate a few metres from the border in Kfar Kila but did not stop.

Villagers throwing rice and Hizbollah supporters holding banners welcomed the county's army to the south after a nearly 40-year absence. About 15,000 troops are eventually supposed to deploy in the region under a peace plan aimed at securing an end to more than a month of fighting between Hizbollah guerillas and Israel, but so far the troops have deployed mostly to predominantly Christian towns including Qleia and Marjayoun.

Overnight, Lebanese forces arrived in the largely Shia Muslim village of Khiam in the same area, said Lebanese Brig. Gen. Charles Sheikhani.

Gen. Sheikhani said he would not deploy troops permanently to Kfar Kila until a border fence destroyed by invading Israeli troops last month was repaired and all Israeli troops there withdrew.

An Associated Press reporter who visited the town, however, saw no Israeli troops. Residents in Kar Kila said Israeli forces had already pulled out.

Lebanese troops took up positions in the heavily bombed border town of Khiam and other villages. A dozen military trucks and armoured personnel carriers rolled into the Shia hilltop town of Khiam where last month four U.N. peacekeepers were killed in an Israeli air raid that sparked an international outcry.

Troops also entered the village of Shebaa, where they were given a rapturous welcome by hundreds of locals who threw rice over the soldiers and performed folk dances and the Sunni Muslim community slaughtered two sheep.

Meanwhile, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown on Friday made an urgent appeal for European countries to quickly provide troops for a peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.

``The particular appeal I want to make today is that Europe comes forward with troops for this first wave,'' he told journalists. While around half a dozen countries have offered troops, European powers expected to have provided key contributions have proved reluctant to give firm troop pledges.



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