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French Version

Syria sets April 30 deadline for army and intelligence withdrawal

Syria has commited to withdraw its remaining troops and intelligence units from Lebanon by April 30. The announcement was made by UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen following a meeting with Syrian President Assad and the country's foreign minister Farouq Sharaa in Damascus.

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Larsen said: "Foreign Minister Sharaa informed me that all Syrian troops, military assets and the intelligence apparatus will have been withdrawn fully and completely latest by April 30, 2005."

He added: "The government of Syria has agreed with me that, subject to acceptance by the Lebanese authorities, a verification team will be dispatched in order to verify the full Syrian withdrawal."

Larsen is due in Lebanon today to meet President Emile Lahoud to discuss the details and, subject to Lahoud's approval, formalize a date for the verification team's arrival in Lebanon.

The move means Syrian troops will have left Lebanon ahead of scheduled parliamentary elections in May, one of the main demands of both the country's opposition and the international community.

In theory a withdrawal at the end of this month would allow enough time for Parliament to hold the elections over four separate weekends, as is standard.

But it is understood that a number of opposition politicians are keen to have the election take place on a single day toward the end of May.

Sharaa stressed Syria wanted the Lebanese parliamentary elections to be held on time.

He said: "We support holding these elections at their scheduled date. The date that the Lebanese agree upon." He added: "By completely withdrawing Syria will have applied the part of Resolution 1559 that concerns it."

That statement indicates Syria will now leave Lebanon's government to deal with the two remaining clauses of 1559 which call for the disarmament of Hizbullah and Palestinian factions within its borders.

Assad had earlier warned that some politicians in Lebanon would use the withdrawal of his troops to sign an independent peace with Israel.

But Sharaa stressed the unity of Lebanon and Syria regarding a wider Mideast peace.

He said: "I cannot imagine that anyone would sign an individual peace agreement outside this framework."

He added: "The security of Lebanon and Syria is linked."

The Lebanese government said it would not respond to the announcement from Damascus.

Opposition leader Walid Jumblatt said: "We have to be realistic. We have to purify the security services from the leftovers [of Syrian intelligence], because the security services are still meddling with the safety of citizens."

Opposition MP Nassib Lahoud called the announcement "a positive development that will be crucial in solving the current crisis in Lebanon".

He said: "We hope it will open a new page in Lebanese-Syrian relations."

On the loyalist side, Labor Minister Assem Qanso dubbed the withdrawal "a natural step that falls in the time frame set by Dr. Bashar Assad two months ago."

Qanso, who heads the Lebanese wing of the Syrian Baath Party said: "The withdrawal will have no effect on elections, because the Syrian army had no influence over the elections during the past 15 years anyway," adding that the challenge for the Lebanese is to "sit together and solve" the country's problems.

Lebanon's Army Commander General Michel Suleiman met Assad in Damascus to coordinate the pullout, according to an Army Command statement.

International and local pressure has increased against Syria to leave Lebanon since the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. Syria recently moved many of its 15,000 troops to the Bekaa Valley, near the Syrian border.

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Beirut 04-04-2005
Nayla Assaf
The Daily Star

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