Ukraine wants to keep its peacekeepers in Lebanon despite a U.N. demand that the troops pull out over allegations of financial abuse, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
The United Nations asked Ukraine last month to withdraw its 500-strong battalion from Lebanon, accusing them of financial abuses. "The good name of our soldiers must not suffer," ministry spokesman Vasyl Filipchuk was quoted as saying by the AP. "We will do our best to keep our peacekeepers in Lebanon."
Ukraine sent a special commission to investigate the allegations, and several criminal cases have been opened, Filipchuk said, refusing to elaborate. A U.N. official said earlier that "significant financial misconduct" by Ukrainian military personnel including the commanding officer in Lebanon had been uncovered.
Ukraine's battalion in Lebanon is made up of sappers responsible for mine clearance. Defense Ministry spokesman Andriy Lysenko said the troops would remain in Lebanon at least until December.
"It's technically impossible to withdraw them earlier," Lysenko said. Ukraine has participated in several peacekeeping missions worldwide, including the ill-fated U.N.-led peacekeeping operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992-95. It also has troops deployed in Iraq; they are expected to be withdrawn by the end of the year.
Ukrainian troops and military observers are also deployed in Kosovo, Congo, Lebanon, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Liberia and the former Soviet republic of Moldova.
In June, Ukrainian prosecutors announced that the former head of Ukraine's peacekeeping contingent in Iraq had been arrested on charges of smuggling. Ukrainian authorities earlier in the year had detained several soldiers on leave from Iraq on charges of smuggling US$300,000 (Ђ240,000) in cash.
Ukraine's military has suffered cash shortages since the country's 1991 independence; salaries are low and officers lost many of the benefits they enjoyed when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.