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Troops prepare for return to south Lebanon

After a decade of trotting around the globe and serving in hotspots such as Chad, Kosovo and Eritrea, Ireland's peacekeeping troops return to south Lebanon next month.

Since the last Irish battalion left the area in 2001 after 23 years' involvement in the Unifil mission, south Lebanon has altered radically and reflects the seismic changes that are ripping through the Middle East.

But the local mukhtars have assured the troops that, despite the growing volatility, the Irish are welcome back in their old haunts.

Lieutenant Colonel Frank Bolger, the officer commanding the 104th infantry battalion, yesterday told the Irish Independent the community leaders in Tibnin -- one of the two main centres of population along with Bint Jubayl in the Irish area of operations -- had lobbied for the Irish to be deployed in their area.

The role of the 440-strong battalion, which finishes its four months of training this week, will be different to their previous mission, with an emphasis on mobile patrolling, particularly alongside the Lebanese armed forces.

The battalion will also be involved in helping to ensure humanitarian access to civilians.

The troops are finishing a mission readiness exercise at the Glen of Imaal in Co Wicklow.

Irish Independent