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French Version


Annan expects full Syrian withdrawal ahead of polls

Washington skeptical that Assad will pull out by May

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan expects a complete withdrawal of all Syrian forces from Lebanon before May's parliamentary elections. The announcement comes after UN special envoy to the Middle East Terje Roed-Larsen, reported his findings to Annan following his whistle stop tour of Europe and the Middle East during the last week.

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Following the meeting Larsen said: "The conclusion after my briefing today is that the secretary general expects the full withdrawal of all Syrian troops, including the intelligence apparatus and military assets, to take place before the Lebanese parliamentary election."

Syria's President Bashar Assad has committed to a first-phase pullout of troops and intelligence agents by April 1 but will not give a final timetable for a complete withdrawal until a meeting between Syrian and Lebanese security officials scheduled for April 7.

Larsen declined to comment on whether Assad had committed himself to withdrawing fully before Lebanon's elections.

He said: "I don't want to go into these details."

He added: "Sanctions were not on the agenda. There isn't an 'or else.' We simply expect that it happens."

But despite Larsen's bullishness, Washington expressed skepticism that Assad was committed to a full withdrawal by May.

A U.S. State Department official said: "There is such a lack of explicitness in what we're hearing from the Syrians."

He added: "There's not one clear message from the top."

He continued: "I think they are keeping their options open and they are trying to keep from being cornered and for that reason you have a disturbing lack of specificity."

Larsen is charged with ensuring implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the withdrawal of all non-Lebanese forces from the country, but does not specify a timeline.

Larsen said the UN expected Lebanon's elections to take place between mid-April and mid-May.

He added that he would return to the region in early April to finish sketching out a report that Annan will deliver to the UN Security Council on April 19.

It is understood that around 4,000 Syrian troops and intelligence agents have left Lebanon since the withdrawal began in earnest last week.

Around 10,000 Syrian soldiers and personnel remain stationed in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley following their withdrawal from military posts in Northern Lebanon and intelligence offices in Beirut. Syrian troops entered Leb-anon in 1976 to act as a buffer between warring factions.

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Beirut 18-03-2005
Linda Dahdah
The Daily Star



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