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French Version

Solana voices support for Lebanese Army, government

Visiting European Union foreign affairs chief Javier Solana expressed confidence on Tuesday in the Lebanese Army's ability to assert control in North Lebanon and dismissed any speculation that international forces in the country would be drawn into the conflict.

Solana, who arrived in Beirut Tuesday, met with both Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Speaker Nabih Berri.

"My message today is one of support for the Lebanese people, their army and government," Solana said during a joint news conference at the Grand Serail Tuesday afternoon with acting Foreign Minister Tarek Mitri.

Solana said he had no evidence of any Syrian role in recent violence in Lebanon. He added that he hoped that the Lebanese government would be allowed to do its job under "normal circumstances for a democratic government."

"I doubt the Lebanese Army will face difficulties in controlling the situation [in the North], but I believe the army will assert control very effectively as would the army of any democratic country," Solana said.

At least 31 soldiers have been killed in three days of fighting with Islamic militants in Tripoli and the nearby Nahr al-Bared camp.

In response to a question about possible involvement in the conflict by soldiers with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, Solana said UNIFIL has a clear mandate based on a Security Council resolution.

"Therefore any additional missions for UNIFIL require additional resolutions from the Security Council, thus UNIFIL's mission will not change in Lebanon," he said.

Solana declined to comment on whether he supports a possible entry by the army into Nahr al-Bared.

"I am not a Lebanese Army commander nor a minister in the government, therefore I do not know the specific strategy and tactics of the armed forces, but I hope their behavior meets with high moral values and principles in protecting civilians," he said.

Solana said that in his meetings with Siniora and Berri Tuesday he had sensed a general mood of support for the army.

"This is very positive because it reflects a sense of solidarity with the armed forces," he said. "I believe Lebanon is a democratic country whose army behaves in a democratic manner.

"I wish to point out that apart from the current [clashes], what remains a very important issue is the international tribunal [to try suspects in the slaying of former Premier Rafik Hariri] which the international community is now working on and which we have to resolve soon."

Solana said the clashes in the North were not a confrontation between the army and Palestinians. "Thinking this way would be a mistake, it is rather a confrontation between an armed terrorist group and the Lebanese Army," he said.

After meeting parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri, Solana told reporters that discussions had centered on the Arab League statement on the clashes in the North.

"I felt great relief at this Arab support," Solana said.

Solana was in Israel on Monday and plans to travel to Egypt before continuing to the Gaza Strip to evaluate ongoing clashes there.

Beirut 23-05-2007
The Daily Star

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