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French Version

Syrian troops evacuate North Lebanon (Daily Star)

Thousands head toward eastern Bekaa valley

Syrian troops have evacuated posts in most of North Lebanon, including major bases in Tripoli, Akkar and Batroun, but continue to occupy small guard posts on Thursday around the houses of some of Syrian Army officials.

Since Tuesday, some 225 Syrian military vehicles and troop carriers have transported around 3,000 Syrian soldiers from the North to the Bekaa Valley, according to Lebanese security sources.

Hamat military airport in Batroun has also been abandoned. However, Syrian troops remain settled in Al-Kleiat, known as Rene Mouawad military airport, in Akkar, a few kilometers from the Lebanese-Syrian coastal border.

Another Syrian post in Arida near the borderline with Syria also remains under Syrian control.

The plan stated that the estimated 15,000 Syrian troops deployed in Lebanon would be redeployed to the Bekaa Valley by the end of March, with consultations to be held afterward to work out a timetable for full withdrawal to the Syrian side of the border.

Yet, no time line was set for the implementation of the second step, a fact which had drawn criticism from the Lebanese opposition as well as the international community.

Lebanese throughout the country have welcomed the reports of Syria's withdrawal, but some fear the repercussions of such a historic move.

While some residents in the north were overjoyed by the redeployments, Bekaa residents feared that increasing pressure would be applied on them by thousands Syrian soldiers coming their way.

A major contributing factor to the excitement felt by many Northerners is that, with the withdrawal of Syrian troops after almost three decades, many residents have been able to retrieve properties that had been seized by the Syrian Army.

Kamal Baydoun, 50, said that he now plans on visiting the mountain villa once owned by his family, but which was been occupied by Syrian forces since the 1975-90 civil war.

He said: "I have a lot of memories from that house. We used to come with our parents in the summer."

However, the happiness which some felt at finally retrieving their properties was not felt in the Bekaa, where many residents dreaded the redeployment.

Some farmers near the eastern border town of Chtaura were fearful that Syria would pull back to the Bekaa only to remain there.

One farmer asked: "What assures us that they won't come here and settle for another 30 years?"

Despite wanting a total Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, one landowner in Chtaura hoped the move would not affect Syrian laborers in Lebanon.

He said: "I have a couple of Syrians citizens who work for me, farming the land and planting fruit trees and vegetables. They take lower wages than their Lebanese counterparts."

For those in Baalbek, the Syrian redeployment also seemed cause for concern.

Some Baalbek residents confessed to the role the Syrian troops played as a stabilizing element in Lebanon, but worried that the 15,000 troops would only put pressure on them.

They also feared that the upcoming total withdrawal might lead Syrian laborers to flee Lebanon for fear of persecution.

One resident said: "Despite the fact that this would mean more job opportunities for our citizens, I fear this would slow down our business with Syria over the border, leading to an economic setback."

Beirut 11-03-2005
Leila Hatoum
The Daily Star

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