Written Answers. - Overseas Missions.

Seán Power

Question:

331 Mr. Power asked the Minister for Defence the future role he envisages for our Defence Forces in the Lebanon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19536/00]

Members of the Defence Forces have been deployed for service with UNIFIL since 1978. On 4 April 2000 the Government approved the provision of a replacement contingent to UNIFIL comprising approximately 620 personnel all ranks for a six month period beginning 19 April 2000. The Government decision also allowed for preparations to be made for the selection, training and equipping of a further contingent of approximately 620 personnel all ranks to provide for the possibility of Ireland's continued participation in the UNIFIL peacekeeping force beyond July 2000 in the event of the further extension of the UNIFIL mandate beyond that date. The UNIFIL mandate is reviewed by the UN Security Council every six months. In July 2000 the Security Council extended the mandate for a period of six months to 31 January 2001, the matter to be reviewed by the Security Council in early November on foot of a report to be furnished by the Secretary General by 31 October 2000. The report will examine the progress made by UNIFIL towards completion of the tasks assigned to it in the original 1978 mandate.

The Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon was effectively completed between 22-24 May 2000. Following the withdrawal, UNIFIL began conducting extensive patrols in armoured vehicles in the former Israeli controlled area. In response to a request from the United Nations for additional troops and support personnel, the Government conveyed approval on 3 May 2000 for the deployment of an extra 50 personnel to augment the 87th Irish Battalion until the end of its tour of duty in October 2000, as well as for the deployment of an engineer party, together with necessary equipment, to undertake essential construction work in the Irishbatt area of operations.

The extra 50 personnel joined the Irish contingent in June 2000. Four Panhard AML 90s were also sent to the Irishbatt area of operations in response to a UN request. In addition, UNIFIL supplied Irishbatt with a further five armoured personnel carriers – APCs – to meet additional patrol taskings which arose as a result of the Israeli withdrawal. The extra personnel were employed in crewing the extra APCs as well as supplying additional medical support. In August 2000, 50 Defence Forces engineering personnel, together with their equipment, joined the contin gent in order to construct new posts for Irishbatt personnel in the former Israeli controlled area, close to the "blue line" or border with Israel. These personnel are scheduled to complete their task by the end of this month at which time they will return to Ireland.
I will shortly seek the approval of the Government in relation to providing a replacement contingent to UNIFIL from 30 October 2000 when the current contingent will be due to return home, as well as approval for the selection, training and equipping of a further contingent, to provide for the possibility of Ireland's continued participation in the UNIFIL peacekeeping force beyond April 2001, in the event of the further extension of the UNIFIL mandate.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 425 of 1978 required Israel to end its presence in South Lebanon. UNIFIL was established in 1978 to (1) confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces; (2) restore international peace and security and (3) assist the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area. While the prospects for long-term peace seem more hopeful now that Israel has withdrawn from Lebanese territory, indications are that the UN is likely to maintain a continuing role in Lebanon for some time.
The matter of Defence Forces continued participation in UNIFIL will be kept under continual review. I have just returned from a visit to the 87th Irish Battalion and I am happy to report that the situation continues to be calm.