France is to reduce the strength of its UN peacekeeping contingent in southern Lebanon by 400, just under a third of its troops there, the foreign ministry said Tuesday.
A statement from the ministry said the decision had been taken in agreement with the United Nations and with Lebanon following a strategic review of the mission of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
Spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters the French force would be reduced to around 1,000 troops. UNIFIL as a whole has around 12,000 soldiers from 35 countries and is led by a large Italian contingent.
The force was created in 1978 to help Lebanon restore government control over southern Lebanon after an Israeli invasion, and it was beefed up in 2006 after the latest fighting between the Hezbollah militia and Israel.
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Some 293 peacekeepers have died since UNIFIL was first deployed.
In August last year the UN Security Council asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to review UNIFIL's strategy, and his report was recently presented to member states, five years after the last border conflict.
France said it supports the conclusions of the review, which it said called for the UN force to become "lighter but more effective" and to accelerate the handover of responsibility for security to the Lebanese army.
"France reiterates its full support for the essential role of UNIFIL in support of the stability, independence and territorial integrity of Lebanon," Valero said, in his statement.
While Lebanon's southern frontier with Israel has been relatively peaceful in recent months, tensions are running high in the region because of the year-old revolt in Syria and the bloody crackdown against rebels.
There are also fears that any conflict between Israel and Iran could trigger renewed attacks by Hezbollah, a Shiite movement sponsored by Tehran.