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Syria: Troops to go home in April

Associated Press
Published March 14, 2005

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Syria has withdrawn nearly a third of its 14,000 troops from Lebanon and the remainder were expected to be gone - as demanded by the Bush administration - before Lebanese parliamentary elections slated to begin next month, senior Syrian officials said Sunday.

The 10,000 troops still in the country have mainly pulled back to the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, near the Syrian border. However, 1,000 intelligence officers remain in the country, mainly around Tripoli and Akkar and on the southern edge of Beirut.

"The elections will take place and I think the troops will move out of Lebanon probably before then," Bouthaina Shaaban, a Syrian Cabinet minister, told CNN.

A day after meeting Syrian President Bashar Assad, U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen held back-to-back sessions Sunday with top Lebanese officials. He was sent to the region to pressure Damascus to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which demands an end to Syrian involvement in its tiny neighbor after nearly three decades. The document was drafted by the United States and France and adopted in September.

In southern Lebanon, meanwhile, at least 100,000 pro-Syrian demonstrators turned out in the market town of Nabatiyeh, where protesters burned Israeli flags and waved posters of Assad, his late father, President Hafez Assad, and pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. It was the second big protest organized by the militant Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah in a week.

The demonstrators - some estimates put their number as high as 300,000 - shouted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" and slogans denouncing the U.N. resolution, under which Syrian is now removing its forces.

In south Beirut, thousands of anti-Syrian protesters conducted a candlelight demonstration.

The accounting of Syrian troops shows 4,000 have returned to their home country, and 4,000 have redeployed to the Bekaa Valley where they joined 6,000 already stationed there, the Associated Press reported, quoting a senior Lebanese army officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The officer said the removal of the remaining 10,000 Syrian forces would be the subject of discussions at a Lebanese-Syrian military commission meeting scheduled for April 7. Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud concurred that the next moves would be decided by the commission, although he would not give a date for the meeting.

The U.N. envoy said after his Saturday session with Assad that he had extracted further details of a pullout timetable and would present that information at U.N. headquarters in New York this week.

Lahoud's office said he told the U.N. envoy that the Lebanese and Syrian leaderships had agreed to a series of military measures to secure a Syrian troop withdrawal in line with the Arab-brokered 1989 Taif agreement that ended Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.

[Last modified March 14, 2005, 01:29:07]

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