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French Version

Annan : Syria will back arms embargo

'Assad to bolster border guards'

UN chief Kofi Annan said Friday Damascus would enforce an arms embargo on Hizbullah in accordance with a UN resolution that halted Israel's war with the Lebanese group. Speaking to reporters after a meeting with the Syrian President in the Ash-Shaab Presidential Palace in Damascus, Annan said Bashar Assad had promised him he would halt all weapons to the Lebanese resistance group under UNSC 1701.

Syria also promised to boost the number of it own guards along the Lebanese-Syrian border, and establish joint patrols with the Lebanese Army "where possible," Annan said.

"While stating Syrian objections to the presence of foreign forces along the Syrian-Lebanese border , the [Syrian] president committed to me that Syria shall take all necessary measures to implement in full paragraph 15 of Resolution 1701 [which] deals with the arms embargo and rearmament" of Hizbullah, Annan said.

Assad made no public comments after their meeting, but Annan spoke with reporters at the Damascus airport before departing at midday for Qatar.

Syria, a staunch backer of Hizbullah, has been accused along with Iran of supplying weapons to Hizbullah, a charge it denies.

Annan said Syria "will undertake as soon as possible" measures to increase the number of border guards and give them additional training and equipment. Syria would also "establish liaison mechanisms with the Lebanese armed forces, border police and international personnel providing technical assistance to the Lebanese in order to set up an effective interdiction regime," he added.

Asked whether such measures would succeed in blocking arms shipments to Hizbullah, Annan replied: "I think it can happen. It may not be 100 percent, but it will make quite a lot of difference if the government puts in place the measures the government has discussed with me. I have no reason to believe it will not be done." On the issue of disarming Hizbullah, Annan said Assad "accepts and supports the decisions of Lebanese national dialogue on disarmament of militias."

"Syria is an important regional player, the international community is looking to Syria to play a constructive role in this crucial period," Annan said.

Syria last month threatened to close its border with Lebanon if UN peacekeepers were deployed on it under the UN resolution that led to the August 14 cease-fire between Hizbullah and Israel.
But Lebanon, which has sent 8,600 soldiers to patrol the frontier, says it has no plans to ask UN troops to join them.

Annan said he also discussed with Assad the establishment of diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon.

Annan, who had told the Lebanese government earlier that he would press Syria to open diplomatic ties with Lebanon, said Assad had accepted this in principle, but had told him it was a sovereign issue to be worked out with the Beirut authorities.

"The president informed me Syria is prepared to establish normal diplomatic relations with Lebanon ... and that Syria is prepared to go ahead with the delineation of its border with Lebanon," Annan said.

However, Annan did not say if he had pressed Assad to comply with demarcating the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms area, claimed by Beirut, with Syria's verbal backing, but viewed by the UN as Syrian territory.

The Syrian president has previously ruled out any demarcation in Shebaa Farms while it is occupied by Israel.

Annan said he had asked Syria to use its influence to obtain the release of two Israeli soldiers whose capture by Hizbullah in July triggered the 34-day war in Lebanon.

"The president supported the call for their [Israeli and Lebanese prisoners] release, but he also raised the question of the Syrian prisoners and called for their release," Annan said.

He added that he encouraged the Syrian leader to meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who is backed by an anti-Syrian majority. Assad told him he was ready to meet Siniora any time.

Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said the talks with Assad had covered "all tracks of the peace process," referring to Israel's stalled negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians over territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 war.

"Out of this tragedy of war there is a real opportunity for peace that we all must not miss," Annan declared.

Annan, who has already visited Lebanon, Jordan and Israel, left Syria after meeting Assad headed for Qatar, before stops in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey.

Beirut 03-09-2006
The Daily Star

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