ArDO: Yes we want Lebanon to be the Switzerland of the East and Beirut the Paris of the East


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Syria declines timetable on Lebanon pullout, UN says

AFP 1/10/04: UNITED NATIONS : Syria has not complied with a UN Security Council demand to pull its troops out of Lebanon and said it cannot give a timetable for doing so, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reported. After studying progress on a council resolution last month calling for all foreign troops to get out of the country, Annan said Lebanon and Syria had both indicated that the soldiers were there at Beirut's request. "The government of Syria has informed me that it cannot provide me with numbers and timetables for any future withdrawal," Annan said in the report, released to the press. "The requirements on the various parties set out in resolution 1559 have not been met," he said. "The governments of both Lebanon and Syria have told me that the Syrian forces present in Lebanon ... are there at the invitation of Lebanon and that their presence is therefore by mutual agreement," Annan said. The report was issued just hours after an apparent assassination attempt in Beirut on Lebanon's outgoing Economy and Trade Minister Marwan Hamadeh, who has been one of the most vocal critics of the Syrian presence.
The minister's bodyguard was killed and his driver was injured in the bomb attack. The United States and France pressed hard for the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution last month after a constitutional amendment allowed President Emile Lahoud, a Syrian protege, to stay for an extra term in office. The resolution, which was adopted by the bare minimum of nine votes in favour with six abstentions, made no specific reference to Syria but was clearly aimed at Damascus.
Syria is the powerbroker in its smaller neighbour, where it maintains an estimated 14,000 troops, a holdover from a larger contingent sent in during Lebanon's brutal 1975-1990 civil war. "The withdrawal of foreign forces and the disbandment and disarmament of militias would, with finality, end that sad chapter of Lebanese history," Annan said, mentioning also Israel's 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon that ended in 2000. "It is time, 14 years after the end of hostilities and four years after the Isreli withdrawal from Lebanon, for all parties concerned to set aside the remaining vestiges of the past," the UN chief said.
Public opinion "appears to be divided" over the Syrian troops but many believe a pullout "would be in the interest not just of Lebanon, but of Syria too, and of the region and the wider international community," he said.
But Annan said that both the Lebanese and Syrian governments had repeatedly declined any interference by Damascus in its neighbour's internal affairs. "The government of Lebanon has stated to me that its ultimate goal is the complete withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanese territory," he said. He said Beirut also said it "intends that all irregular armed groups ultimately be disarmed and disbanded," in a clear reference to the militant group Hezbollah, whose guerrilla war helped end the Israeli occupation. There had been no change in the status of the organisation, a powerful force in the south since the Israelis left, since the resolution was passed, Annan said. - AFP

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