Paris (Apr. 16)
– France today reasserted its determination to try to strengthen the official Lebanese army in order to obtain a lasting cease-fire in that war-torn country. The French government decided yesterday to dispatch to Beirut later this week a top French delegation to investigate the Lebanese army’s needs in modern equip-
ment so as to strengthen it as quickly as possible. In spite of the current election campaign, practically all French parties support the stand taken by President Valery Giscard d’Estaing and the current administration. France has felt a traditional responsibility for Lebanon which, until the end of World War II, was a French protectorate and where French is still the main language. French hospitals, schools and commercial firms operate throughout Lebanon and French public opinion looks upon the country as having “a special organic relationship” with metropolitan France.
France has proposed on several occasions, between 1975-1976, to send a peacekeeping force to supervise the various ceasefire agreements and replace the 25,000-strong predominantly Syrian Arab peacekeeping force which has been stationed in Lebanon since 1975. The Lebanese government, fearful of being accused or inviting the “colonialists back to Beirut” and under strong pressure from the warring Lebanese factions, has refused to request such a force. Paris, however, insists on an official request by Lebanon as a pre-condition for dispatching such a force.
Syria has also traditionally opposed the French initiative and Israel was not over-enthusiastic. The Palestine Liberation Organization has also always opposed the stationing of French troops anywhere in Lebanon, saying that such a move would threaten “not only Lebanon alone but the entire region.”
OPEN LINES OF COMMUNICATION
France has traditionally refused to become involved with the various warring factions but it keeps open lines of communication with all of them and has always supported the central government of President Elias Sarkis. After recent French proposals for an international peacekeeping force faded away because of lack of support in Lebanon and abroad, France now intends to try to strengthen the 18,000-man Lebanese army of which less than a third is operational.
French sources say that Secretary of State Alexander Haig endorsed both French suggestions sending an international force, or alternatively, strengthening the Lebanese army. During his recent stopover in Paris where he conferred with Giscard, Haig said that “the United Nations will have to play a role” in this process. French officials now believe that UN involvement is dooming the project.
DECISION TO ‘GO IT ALONE’
This view explains France’s decision to “go it alone,” to try and smooth over possible regional opposition. The French Ambassadors to Israel, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have been instructed to explain to the various governments France’s “disinterested concern” over the Lebanese situation.
France has already sent to Lebanon helicopters, troop transport and armored vehicles and is preparing to airlift mortars, light artillery and communications equipment.
Most of Giscard’s election rivals have accused him of not having done enough for Lebanon during his term in office. Gaullist candidate Jacques Chirac is far more militant on Lebanon’s behalf, and maverick candidate Marie-France Garraud has ropped Giscard for having taken a “tentative approach” and of having lacked determination. Socialist candidate Francois Mitterrand, on the other hand, generally supports the Giscard Administration’s policy in this area.