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Syria Has Not Withdrawn Troops From Lebanon, Annan

Syria Has Not Withdrawn Troops From Lebanon, Annan Reports

Syria has not withdrawn its troops from Lebanon as called for by the United Nations Security Council although Damascus said some 3,000 of its forces have been redeployed, Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a report made public today.

The Syrian Government also has indicated that about 14,000 of its troops remain in Lebanon, with a majority now based near the Syrian border and not stationed deep inside its smaller neighbour, Mr. Annan writes.

“The Lebanese and Syrian Governments have told me that the timing of further withdrawals would be determined by the security situation in Lebanon and the region,” but both countries said they could not provide a schedule for such action, he says.

Last month, ahead of elections in Lebanon, the Council narrowly adopted a resolution sponsored by France and the United States declaring support for polling free from outside influence, and calling for the withdrawal of all remaining foreign forces, the disbanding of all militias and the extension of Government control over the entire country.

The Secretary-General says that while the objections of Lebanon and Syria to the resolution “are well known, [they] have assured me of their respect for the Council, and that consequently they will not contest it.”

He notes in his report, however, that less than 24 hours after the Council adopted its resolution, Lebanon’s Chamber of Deputies voted 96 to 29 to extend President Emile Lahoud’s term, which was to have expired in November, by another three years.

“It was widely contended in Lebanon, and asserted by the co-sponsors of [the] resolution, that the extension of President Lahoud’s term in office was the result of direct intervention by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic,” he says.

Mr. Annan says that Lebanese public opinion appears to be divided over such issues as the Syrian military presence in Lebanon, the constitutional situation as it relates to presidential elections and the continued existence of armed groups not under the direct control of the Government.

But many people consider that fully implementing the resolution would be in the interest not just of Lebanon, but also Syria, the region and the wider international community, he adds.

“It is time, 14 years after the end of hostilities and four years after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, for all parties concerned to set aside the remaining vestiges of the past. The withdrawal of foreign forces and the disbandment and disarmament of militias would, with finality, end that sad chapter of Lebanese history.”

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