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Annan- Syria promises to completely withdraw from Lebanon

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

ALGIERS, Algeria -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday that Syria's president has agreed to present a firm timetable by early April for a full withdrawal of his country's troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon.

Annan met President Bashar Assad on the sidelines of an Arab summit in Algiers and said Assad confirmed his commitment to U.N. Resolution 1559, which called for a Syrian withdrawal.

"The withdrawal has begun and it continues. He's working out a timetable in consultation with the Lebanese authorities and will withdraw his troops completely into Syrian territory. Not just the troops but also the security service, as well as all the logistical and material equipment to Syria," Annan told reporters.

Syria has pulled back its troops and intelligence agents into eastern Lebanon toward the border and has been promising to work out their complete removal with the pro-Syrian government in Beirut. But it has so far not given a timetable, despite mounting international pressure to get out of the nation it has dominated for years.

Annan said Assad agreed a timetable would be ready in time for a visit to Damascus by a U.N. envoy in the first week of April. Annan said he expects the envoy to return with a "credible and well-defined timetable."

"We need to see all of them withdrawn and President Assad has confirmed to me that that is his intention and he will implement 1559 in full," said Annan. "We are going to work with him to ensure that it is done."

Syria suggested previously that a date for a full withdrawal would be set at an April 7 meeting between Syrian and Lebanese officers.

In the pullback over recent weeks, Lebanese officials say, 4,000 of the 10,000 Syrian soldiers in Lebanon had left the country. The remainder are now in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon.

The United States, France and the United Nations have stepped up pressure on Syria to get out of Lebanon before legislative elections, expected to be held before the legislature's current term expires at the end of May. Key Arab states -- Saudi Arabia and Egypt, in particular -- have pressed Syria to comply.

Syria sent troops to its smaller neighbor in 1976, ostensibly to the keep the peace during a civil war. But they stayed on after the war ended in 1990, helping Syria keep a grip on Lebanese political affairs.


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