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French Version

Opposition, U.S. demand deadline on Syrian pullout

Syria's announcement that it would
shift its troops to eastern Lebanon this month has been dismissed by both the country's political opposition and the U.S. for failing to set a deadline for a full withdrawal.

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Following Monday's meeting of the Higher Lebanese Syrian Council in Damascus, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Syrian President Bashar Assad signed a first-step agreement stipulating the redeployment of Syrian troops from Northern and central Lebanon to the east by the end of March.

Both countries will then decide "within a month" the number of Syrian personnel and "the duration of stay for the remaining forces."

The United States, which has led global pressure on Damascus for a full withdrawal, slammed the announcement, insisting it wanted to see "action, not words" from Syria.

Germany, France and Britain also urged Syria to move swiftly.

In Beirut, Lebanon's political opposition insisted its peaceful "intifada for independence," would continue until Syria made a clear statement detailing the complete pullout of its troops and intelligence apparatus.

Lebanese opposition member and Jbeil MP Fares Soueid said: "The decision made in Damascus does not meet our demands. We were expecting a clear statement that determines the timetable for the pullback of Syrian troops and intelligence forces."

The Damascus statement insisted the redeployment to the Bekaa would be carried out in line with the 1989 Taif Accord, the 1991 Cooperation Treaty between the two countries "and in compliance with the Charter of the United Nations and the respect for international resolutions."

But following the announcement, a White House spokesman said: "This does not add up to Syria leaving Lebanon. We will continue to hold their feet to the fire, not accept half-measures and call a spade a spade, that is, when they make these announcements about a withdrawal that is neither complete or immediate, we will call it for what it is."

In a joint statement, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac said: "We expect Syria to withdraw its troops and security services completely and as quickly as possible."

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Syria's move was a welcome "first step" but added: "We expect to see rapid progress to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the whole of Lebanon, in line with the UN resolution."

Exiled former Lebanese Army commander General Michel Aoun described the announcement as "maneuvering."

In an interview with Reuters, Aoun said: "Assad doesn't want to withdraw. He still hopes to make some changes in international policy but I think he's heading for a confrontation with the international community."

Several observers asked whether the Syrian withdrawal would include intelligence services, or whether it would be conducted prior to the parliamentary elections next May.

The Syrian ambassador to the U.S., Imad Mustafa, insisted Syria would withdraw all troops from Lebanon within a few months, but gave no exact date.

He said: "We entered Lebanon to end a bloody civil war. Now we are withdrawing in compliance with international law. We are giving a good example to the Middle East."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, whose report on Syrian compliance with Resolution 1559 is due in April, said he would study Syria's response.

UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen is due to travel to both Beirut and Damascus this week to discuss 1559 with Lebanese and Syrian officials. The second stage, which involves the full withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, will be discussed later by both governments, but no date has been given for the meeting.

Meanwhile Lahoud is expected to begin his parliamentary consultations with MPs to name the next prime minister on Wednesday.

But following Monday's political developments, the task to form a new government is likely to be more complicated than ever.

Soueid said: "Of course we will not name a prime minister. Neither will we participate in the next Cabinet until our demands are fulfilled."

Soueid said he and Beirut MP Ghinwa Jalloul would attend the consultations to represent the opposition. But, he said, "we will only present our demands."

The Lebanese and Syrian military committee will meet on Wednesday to discuss the first stage of the agreement.

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Beirut 08-03-2005
Nada Raad, Hanan Nasser and Nafez Qawas
The Daily Star

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