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Wednesday July 14, 2010 10:16 PM (EST+7)
UN envoy says trouble with Lebanon villagers over

Read more: Lebanese foreign policy, israel-lebanon relations, un peace keepers

UNITED NATIONS, July 14 (Reuters) - A U.N. envoy to Lebanon said on Wednesday he believed trouble between U.N. peacekeepers and villagers in south Lebanon that has led to confrontations in recent weeks had now been sorted out.

Earlier this month, 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.

I can confirm that the situation in the south is now much better, that I believe that calm and stability have been returned, special coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams told reporters after briefing the Security Council.

Williams said he and UNIFIL commander Major-General Alberto Asarta had met Lebanese political and military leaders, including from Hezbollah. In the course of those meetings, we heard ... that they ... would do everything possible to prevent a recurrence of those incidents, he said.

Williams welcomed a decision by the Lebanese cabinet last week to reinforce the Lebanese army presence in the south. Some 2,500-3,000 extra soldiers are expected to join the estimated 7,000 already there.

UNIFIL was set up in 1978 and expanded in 2006 to monitor the end of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. It currently has some 12,000 troops.

Israel has criticized the U.N. 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.

Villagers in south Lebanon have blamed French peacekeepers for the recent confrontations in the south, saying their patrols had become provocative and intrusive, including taking photographs of people inside their houses. Some Western diplomats say Hezbollah was involved, which the group denies.

Williams declined to speculate on what had caused the trouble, saying only that many factors were involved.

The U.N. envoy also said he hoped for a new approach to try to bring about an Israeli withdrawal from a Lebanese part of a village Israeli forces are occupying.

Ghajar, which has a population of about 2,000, straddles Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights, but Israel currently occupies both parts.

Williams, who expressed hopes a year ago that Israel would be out of the northern, Lebanese part of Ghajar in a few months, said on Wednesday the negotiations with the Jewish state were taking too long.

We discussed in (the Security) Council new ways that we might approach that and I hope we can do so in the coming weeks, he said, without giving details. (Editing by Eric Beech)






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