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In Lebanon, Annan urges scrupulous respect for withdrawal line

In Lebanon, Annan urges scrupulous respect for withdrawal line

In Lebanon today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged rigorous respect for the line of Israeli withdrawal - known as the "Blue Line" - noting that the region cannot afford an outbreak of violence there.

"I would hope that all parties will respect the Blue Line and that would also be my message when I get to Israel," Mr. Annan told reporters following a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Secretary-General expressed hope that air violations would cease "because we do not need any incident that will trigger confrontation on the Line."

"We have enough problems on our hands, with what's going on in the Palestinian territories, and we don't want to see a second front opened," he stressed. "My advice is that everyone should scrupulously respect the Blue Line - and we are going to remain vigilant, monitor it, report to the Security Council and point our finger at the violators."

Upon his arrival in Beirut this morning, Mr. Annan met at the airport with family members of 13 Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel who presented him with a paper seeking their release. The Secretary-General said he would raise the issue with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when he visits Israel.

While at the airport, the Secretary-General expressed his satisfaction at the ceasefire now in effect between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but cautioned that it would not last unless both sides viewed it as part of a broader political process. He added that the report of a fact-finding committee led by former United States Senator George Mitchell offered a "possible route back" to negotiations.

The Secretary-General also met today with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. The two discussed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the need for a just and comprehensive peace in the region, the need to remove mines from Lebanon, and the plans for a donors conference for Lebanon.

Those issues also figured in discussions between Mr. Annan and Nabih Berri, the speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, as well as in a separate meeting with Lebanon's Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Hammoud. "Everyone I have spoken to believes we should bring a just and comprehensive peace to the region," the Secretary-General observed.

Tomorrow, Mr. Annan is expected to meet with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in Ramallah. In the evening, he is scheduled to have dinner in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.