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Spain pledges 1,100 troops for Lebanon

From CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman
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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Spain's Cabinet has approved the deployment of up to 1,100 peacekeeping troops for Lebanon, but that decision is subject to parliamentary approval on September 7.

Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega announced the decision Friday after the cabinet meeting. It is the first time the government has publicly stated specific numbers of what its troop contribution would be.

Spain plans to lead a multinational peacekeeping brigade in Lebanon, Fernandez said.

That force is expected to include troops from Belgium, Poland, Finland and Portugal. Military officers from those countries were meeting in Madrid on Friday with Spanish officials to work out initial details, a Defense Ministry spokesman told CNN.

Spain this week took various steps toward the widely-expected deployment.

The Defense Minister ordered a marine unit to begin technical preparations for the possible deployment. Spain then sent two dozen troops to Lebanon for a reconnaissance visit to determine where and how the troops might be deployed.

The Defense Ministry spokesman said Spain's troops could begin deploying to Lebanon aboard Spanish navy vessels within days of the parliamentary vote on September 7, which is the same day United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is due in Madrid as the final city on his 11-stop tour of the Mideast that started last Monday.

Belgium has pledged about 300 troops for the mission, CNN has confirmed, while Poland and Finland reportedly were set to provide a few hundred troops each. Portugal pledged 140 troops, news reports said.

Deputy Prime Minister Fernandez said Spain's deployment would be in two phases, starting with marine troops and later involving command of an international brigade, to which Spain would contribute a mechanized battalion.

The mechanized battalion is expected to be comprised of a Spanish Legionnaires unit based in Almeria province in southeast Spain, a defense ministry spokesman told CNN.


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