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Ireland steps into fray over UN forces in south Lebanon

Ireland's foreign service has been thrown into top gear as the Irish themselves leading a frontline diplomatic offensive in the Middle East: A diplomatic team normally engaged in presenting the Irish side of the Ulster question and protecting Irish farmers' interests in the European Community suddenly finds itself bargaining with the israelis and organizing a 10-nation Middle East conference.

For two years Irish soldiers have been serving with the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). But recently three Irish soldiers have been killed. One in cross fire, and two apparently shot in cold blood by Christian militiamen in reprisal for recent UN actions in southern Lebanon.

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Prime Minister Charles Haughey called an emergency Cabinet meeting to try and reduce tensions at home and abroad.

The Irish Ambassador to Israel, Sean Ronan, has been instructed to tell Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to control the Christian militiamen under the command of Maj. Saad Haddad.

Irish envoys have invited the 10 countries supplying troops to UNIFIL to formulate "new conditions once and for all" to enable the UN mandate to be enforced in Lebanon.

On April 24, 700 Irish troops will leave Dublin to replace the battalion, which is completing a six-month tour. There is concern that if hostilities are increased along the Lebanon border where the Irish operate, fewer Irish soldiers might volunteer to serve there.

There is no doubting Ireland has a problem. It appears the UN commitment is indefinite. Following recent shootings Ireland has been accused by the Israelis of "leading the pack in flagellating Israel for supporting the Christian militiamen."

Ireland's European Community partners, who might normally be expected to add some weight to a member country's arguments, are unlikely to take up Ireland's case.

The European Community is preoccupied with Iran, a community response to President Carter over the Olympics, and the continuing saga of how to finance the European Community itself.

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So Mr. Haughey and Foreign Minister Brian Lenihan are bearing the brunt of what is seen here as a determined attempt to undermine UNIFIL's mandate.

Mr. Haughey and Mr. Lenihan say there is "no question" of ireland withdrawing troops from Lebanon.

A statement said, however, "Governments in the region and all those governments which wish the UN force to continue in being must now see that it is necessary once and for all to create conditions which will allow it to carry out its mandate in every respect."

An Irish political observer commented, "What happens if those conditions aren't met? Has Ireland, or the other 10 members of UNIFIL, the patience or the concern to get embroiled in a Middle East conflict?"


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