VILNIUS - Lithuania's leaders seemed divided over whether they should send troops to Lebanon to participate in the planned United Nations' peacekeeping efforts.
The prime minister has suggested that Lithuania send a small contingent to the Middle East, but the president and chief military officers said they were reluctant to get involved given the country's current peacekeeping obligations.
Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said he did not rule out the possibility of sending a small mission to Lebanon, adding that it was ultimately up to the State Defense Council to decide.
"It will depend on whether or not we receive a proposal, on the kind of proposal and forces. If these were small forces, I would think we should contribute," he told public radio on Aug. 22.
Defense Minister Juozas Olekas said last week that military leaders were not inclined to undertake any new international missions in addition to current operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo. They would, however, consider the possibility of participating in the operation in Lebanon if it were approved by the State Defense Council and state leaders made a political decision.
"Our priorities are not changing 's operations under the flag of NATO and other allies are important to us. We give priority to the reconstruction of the Afghan province of Ghor, Iraq, Kosovo," Olekas said.
"The Defense Ministry and the Armed Forces would not like to expand current missions, but if it was considered by the (president-led) State Defense Council, if a political decision on the mission in Lebanon was made, we would consider our participation in it," the defense minister said.
At present, 221 Lithuanian servicemen participate in missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans.
The government, meanwhile, has allocated 300,000 litas (87,000 euros) in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon.
President Valdas Adamkus said serious thought needed to be given to joining any U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.
"I believe we should first think whether we should go deep into every case of what happened where, send one, two or three officers and think that we are carrying out an international mission amid international obligations and shared responsibility we already have," Adamkus told journalists on Aug. 19.
The president said Lithuania had "large obligations" in Afghanistan, adding that he was not planning to discuss the Lebanon mission with the State Defense Council. "I see no reason for doing this."
Some experts are skeptical about sending Lithuanian servicemen to Lebanon, where Lithuania does not have any tangible interests and where it would not even be clear which side should be defended.
Raimundas Lopata, director of the Institute of International Relations and Political Science of Vilnius University, said participation in the mission would be an additional burden for the Armed Forces, which can hardly find enough resources to fulfill other commitments.
"Is our vision of the list of national priorities correct? We should not strain ourselves. What are additional commitments for the sake of commitments to the international community without having ascertained whether it meets our own and allies' interests? The burden of the mission in Afghanistan will grow, and Lithuania hardly finds enough funds to fulfill its current obligations," Lopata said.