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French Version

Mubarak : Syria to announce pullout timetable

'Assad is determined to withdraw troops and intelligence services from lebanon'

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Syria will announce within days a "precise timetable" for the full withdrawal of its remaining forces in Lebanon.

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Speaking from Paris following a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, Mubarak said Syrian President Bashar Assad would provide the United Nations with a full timetable for the withdrawal "within a week."

Mubarak met with Assad several times in the last 10 days, most recently during this week's Arab League summit in Algiers.

Mubarak said: "I told him that it should take place before the elections to avoid other problems, and I believe he is fully aware of this."

Lebanon's parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place before the end of May.

The Egyptian president said: "I have had several conversations with the Syrian president and my last one was yesterday in Algiers. The Syrian president is implementing Resolution 1559."

He added: "He is determined to withdraw his troops and also the intelligence services which are in Lebanon."

Asked if recent bombings risked destabilizing Lebanon, Mubarak said: "I don't think that one or two explosions can lead to a new civil war."

Mubarak's comments come in the wake of intense international pressure led by Washington and Paris and follows an earlier commitment by Assad given to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Chirac has led European Union calls for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and earlier this week reiterated his demand for to see what he called a "fully democratic and sovereign Lebanon."

Syria has also come under pressure from Arab nations, most notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which have told Assad in no uncertain terms to remove his troops from Lebanon or risk damaging relations with other Arab countries.

Speaking from Beirut, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield reiterated Washington's call for the complete withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon and free and fair parliamentary elections "as rapidly as possible."

But speaking earlier, Syria's ambassador to the U.S., Imad Mustafa, insisted that no final timetable had been drawn up before next month's meeting of Lebanese and Syrian military chiefs.

Speaking at Georgetown University, Mustafa said: "Right now nobody even in Damascus itself knows the actual timetable."

He added that the remaining troops could be withdrawn in "less than two months."
He said: "We believe that it will happen sooner than you might expect."

Mustafa added that he hoped the United States and Israel would follow his country's example and withdraw from Iraq and the Occupied Territories as quickly as Syria is leaving Lebanon.

He said: "U.S. President George W. Bush has many times spoken about making Iraq a model that would inspire the whole Arab world. I think the Arab people would love to see this Syrian model followed by the Americans and the Israelis."

Mustafa also made clear that his country was eager to improve its relations with the United States and hoped Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon would be a step in that direction.

He said: "We hope that once this chapter ends we can find common ground with the United States."

He added: "I don't think any country in the world would like to be regarded as an enemy to the United States. If you don't believe me, go and ask the list of 30 countries that were invaded by your troops in the past 30 years."

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said Thursday that Syrian troops had played a major role in restoring stability and preventing any attempts to partition Lebanon or resettle Palestinians in the country.

The first phase of Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon was completed last Friday, with around 4,000 Syrian troops withdrawn across the border.

About 10,000 troops and intelligence personnel remain in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley close to the Syrian frontier.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 passed in September calls for a full withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon.

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Beirut 25-03-2005
Nada Bakri
The Daily Star

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