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French Version

Syrian withdrawal of troops enters final phase

There is a commitment to completing the task ahead of April 30 deadline

Syria began the final phase of its military and intelligence units pullout from Lebanon with a commitment to accelerate the pace in order to complete the task ahead of its April 30 deadline.

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Syrian Information Minister Mehdi Dakhlallah said: "The Syrian pullout may take place well before the end of the month, just as it did for the first phase that was due to end at the end of March and actually wrapped up in the middle of the month."

The last large Syrian military post, in Mount Lebanon in the Mdeirej-Falougha area, which was supposed to be vacated last March during the first phase of the withdrawal was finally being evacuated yesterday.

Eyewitnesses said soldiers at the base spent most of Thursday dismantling and destroying defense fortifications in the area in preparation for departure to Syria late last night.

Eyewitnesses said the junction of the main Damascus Road at Ain Sehat was filled with Syrian troops and vehicles which had converged on the junction from a number of different points in Lebanon before starting their homeward journey.

In eastern Lebanon, in the country's Bekaa Valley, more armor and trucks carrying soldiers and weapons were seen heading toward the Syrian border while other units busied themselves packing up belongings ahead of moving out.

Syria's insistence that it is speeding up its withdrawal comes hard on the heels of warnings from Washington that Damascus might drag it heels when it came to a complete withdrawal.

In the southern part of the Bekaa Valley, a senior Lebanese military official confirmed Syrian troops spent the day dismantling a number of military positions in preparation for departure tonight.

The official said: "They have a timetable for the withdrawal and they will keep pulling out unit by unit. The process involves all army troops and intelligence forces."

Other official sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Syrian armor and trucks, carrying about 300 soldiers, headed home from Rashaya al-Wadi, a town about eight kilometers from the border.

On the ground, dozens of empty Syrian trucks and transport vehicles were seen crossing into Lebanon apparently to take back troops, equipment and weapons, witnesses said.

Earlier this week U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said "words and deeds don't always match with the Syrians" when asked about the progress of its pullout from Lebanon.

When asked about Rice's remarks, UN envoy to the region Terje Roed-Larsen said: "This will be an issue for the verification team to take a stand on."

Meanwhile some Lebanese opposition members have accused Syrian military intelligence officials of providing weapons to pro-Syrian groups in Lebanon, though no evidence of this has emerged and other opposition members expressed skepticism about the claim.

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Beirut 08-04-2005
Adnan El Ghoul
The Daily Star

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