Leaders meet in Paris to win help for Lebanon

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Associated Press

Posted on March 5, 2014 at 6:01 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 5 at 6:06 PM

PARIS (AP) — An international support group for Lebanon appealed Wednesday for nations to extend pledges of financial help for the fragile country, which is coping with an influx of Syrian refugees, terror attacks and a struggling economy.

Participants at the ministerial meeting in Paris stressed the need "to not only speed up the promised aid but provide additional help."

President Francois Hollande, opening the meeting, said that Lebanon has taken in more than 1 million Syrian refugees fleeing their country's civil war with 50,000 arrivals monthly. Moral support, he said, is not enough. The United Nations, sponsor of the support groups, wants $6.5 billion this year to help Syrians affected by the war. A fundraising conference in Kuwait in January generated pledges of $2.4 billion.

Lebanon also needs help for its army which plays a "decisive role" in ensuring security, the final statement said. Saudi Arabia announced $3 billion in December, during a visit by Hollande, to buy French weapons for Lebanon.

Sectarian violence in the 3-year-old Syrian civil war is spilling into Lebanon, where dozens have been killed in attacks there.

"As Syria's conflict spills over Lebanon's borders, and as the refugee crisis grows, we are deeply concerned for the security and sovereignty of the people of Lebanon and for their simple ability to chart their own futures," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said after the meeting.

The Lebanese economy also needs injections of funds, and received contributions Wednesday from France, Norway and Finland — placed in a World Bank trust fund. France contributed some 7 million euros ($10 million), Norway $4.8 million and Finland $3 million, according to an official at the French presidential Elysee Palace. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and could not be named.

France, Lebanon's one-time colonial ruler, has committed 10.4 million euros toward helping the refugees and will unblock another 1 million this year. The French Development Agency is supplying 3 million euros for NGOs.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said his country will require years of support, saying the burden it carries threatens its stability.

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