Greece begins its peacekeeping drive in Lebanon

A Greek navy frigate has arrived in Lebanon to join the United Nations multinational peacekeeping force in the area and to help ensure that no illicit arms are shipped into the Middle Eastern country, sources said yesterday. The Kanaris will be one of 10 vessels that will patrol the waters off Lebanon, looking for suspicious vessels. The frigate’s presence in the region is expected to cost Greece some 150,000 euros a week. Athens had pledged assistance last month to the UN stabilizing effort but the dispatch of the frigate was speeded up after a telephone conversation between UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Wednesday. The naval force will initially be made up of five frigates – two French, two Italian and the Greek ship – but three German and two Danish vessels are due to join in around two weeks, sources said. The rules of engagement for the ships have also been cleared up, sources said. The captains have been given orders to open fire if their vessels are fired upon. They have also been told to use force if necessary when they are trying to stop suspect ships. The UN has given captains the right to open fire if a vessel refuses to submit to a check. The Greek frigate, along with the other nine ships in the force, will be able to fire at the suspect vessel, causing minor damage but not destroying it, under the rules of engagement. The UN frogmen, who may have to board ships to check for illegal weapons, will be armed and will also be allowed to open fire if they are shot at. Until the UN deems the port of Beirut to be safer, all the frigates in its naval force will dock in Larnaca, Cyprus, when they are not on patrol. Meanwhile, Greece also holds the current presidency of the UN Security Council and is at the center of discussions to hold a meeting on September 21 to debate the crisis in the Middle East. The Arab League has requested talks with the foreign ministers of the 15 member states of the Security Council on this day. «The request is being discussed between the members of the Security Council,» said Greece’s Ambassador to the UN Adamantios Vassilakis. «The situation in the Middle East warrants the international community’s attention. “A well-organized and well-directed discussion could prove very useful for encouraging peace in the area,» Vassilakis added. «Bearing in mind the sensitive nature of the matter, every aspect has to be studied carefully so any action by the Security Council will be constructive and effective.»