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Work on Lebanon Border Resumes

June 10, 2000

NAQOURA, Lebanon (AP) _ Pressed to move quickly by the U.N. secretary-general, peacekeepers verifying the Israeli troop withdrawal from southern Lebanon resumed border inspection on the Lebanese side today after a daylong holdup.

Ten U.N. vehicles set out in the morning from Naqoura, a Lebanese border town on the Mediterranean coast where the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon is based. U.N. officers were accompanied by Lebanese army officers.

Although Israel declared its withdrawal from South Lebanon on May 24, the United Nations must verify it under Security Council Resolution 425 before deploying peacekeepers along the international border.

On Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan instructed peacekeepers to complete their job urgently _ if possible, within 24 hours. He is planning a visit to the Middle East beginning next Thursday, according to diplomatic sources at the United Nations.

The verification process was held up Friday when Lebanese officials disagreed with parts of the border line drawn by the United Nations. They demanded clarification from map makers, and a U.N. cartographer was called in to join today’s verification.

``I’m just here for technical questions if anybody has″ them, the cartographer, Russian Vladimir Bessarabov, told The Associated Press during the inspection of one position near the village of Yarin.

By midday, the team had covered only a small section of the border, making the completion of the verification unlikely by this evening.

Also Friday, Lebanese protesters stoned a U.N. team working to verify the border on the Israeli side of the fence. Residents of the Arab village of Ghajar, which was sliced in half by the new line, have threatened to evict peacekeepers.

The nine-nation U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, comprising 4,500 peacekeepers, has been deployed in parts of the south since 1978. But its deployment to the border was hindered by the security zone Israel established in 1985 to protect its northern communities from cross-border guerrilla raids.

Meanwhile, the state-run National News Agency reported late Friday that the Lebanese government plans to form a strike force of 1,000 army and police troops to maintain security in areas vacated by the Israeli army.

It said 500 army soldiers will be drawn from anti-terrorism and anti-espionage units as well as military police. The rest of the force will be made up of 500 Internal Security policemen and will be under Interior Ministry command, the report said.

Although the Lebanese army presence will be small, its deployment will be the government’s first firm step to take control of the former security zone, where Shiite guerrillas have moved in to fill the vacuum, rounding up suspected pro-Israeli militiamen or their relatives with little intervention from authorities.

Hundreds of police officers, State Security and military intelligence agents have been sent to the area, but they have stayed away from the border where civilians have been throwing stones at Israeli soldiers on the other side of the fence.

The Lebanese government says it will not send army combat units to the border because it is not Israel’s policeman. Lebanon has said border security will be guaranteed only when Israel negotiates peace with Arab nations including Syria, the main power in Lebanon.

Peace talks between Syria and Israel _ in which Damascus hoped to regain the Golan Heights that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war _ have been stalled since January.

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