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Last update - 19:12 02/02/2007
Italian general formally takes command of UN force in Lebanon
By The Associated Press

BEIRUT - Major General Claudio Graziano of Italy on Friday formally took over command of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon at a ceremony held in the southern part of the country.

Graziano, who was selected by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon earlier this month, succeeds Major General Alain Pellegrini of France who has led the UN force, known as UNIFIL, since February 13, 2004 and headed the operation during the second Lebanon war.

"I leave with the conviction that we have together laid new foundations for a solid and, I hope, lasting stability," Pellegrini said at the ceremony held at UNIFIL headquarters in the southern Lebanese coastal town of Nakoura.

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Graziano, who arrived in Lebanon Monday, is an infantry officer trained in mountain warfare and airborne operations and has served in Mozambique and Afghanistan. He has been deputy chief of staff for operations at Italy's Joint Operations Headquarters since March 2006. He will head the Lebanon operation for the coming year.

On Friday, he expressed his determination to ensure that UNIFIL accomplishes the job with which it is tasked.

UNIFIL has in recent months successfully transformed itself to meet new challenges and is ready to face them, he said at the handover ceremony, which was attended by Lebanese officials and army officers and ambassadors of troop contributing countries.

UNIFIL has been in southern Lebanon on the tense border with Israel since 1978.

Under the UN Security Council resolution that brought a cease-fire to Lebanon in August, the UNIFIL force was expanded to include up to 15,000 troops from 23 countries. The force currently has around 12,000 troops.

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