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UN envoy on Syrian pullout from Lebanon continues talks

UN envoy on Syrian pullout from Lebanon continues talks

Terje Roed-Larsen
The United Nations envoy seeking the withdrawal of thousands of Syrian troops from Lebanon continued his talks with Lebanese leaders in Beirut today, underlining the importance for the country's stability that free and fair elections be held by their scheduled date before the end of May.

Terje Roed-Larsen, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for implementing Security Council resolution 1559, which calls for withdrawing all foreign forces from Lebanon, disbanding all militias and extending Government control over the whole country, reached an agreement Sunday in Damascus for Syria to withdraw all its troops, military assets and intelligence apparatus by 30 April under UN verification.

Today he visited the Beau-Rivage Hotel which had served as the headquarters of the Syrian intelligence services in Lebanon to see for himself that it had in fact been vacated as Syria had promised last month.

Mr. Roed-Larsen, who yesterday met with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Prime Minister Omar Karami, held talks today with the Ministers of Interior and of Defence, Suleiman Franjieh and Abdelrahim Mrad, as well as the chief of staff of the Armed Forces, General Michel Sleiman.

He also saw Druze leader Walid Jumblat and the Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon, Nasrallah Sfeir, as well as the family of the late Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, whose assassination last month increased tensions in the region.

Terming Lebanon's own probe into the bomb attack seriously flawed and declaring Syria primarily responsible for the political tension preceding the murder, a report by a UN inquiry mission has called for an international independent investigation to uncover the truth. The recommendation is now before the Security Council.

Mr. Roed-Larsen's current mission to the region is his third since he assumed his new job in January after serving as UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. He said Syria told him at the weekend that it had already withdrawn 4,000 of the 14,000 troops it was estimated to have on its smaller neighbour's territory. Syrian troops have been in Lebanon since the early stages of the 1975-1990 civil war, at times in much larger numbers.