Joint board to probe Syrian withdrawal

Syria and Lebanon are to form a joint commission to examine claims by Lebanon's prime minister that Damascus still has troops in Lebanon.

    Lebanon's PM said not all Syrian soldiers had left the country

    Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Miqati said on Monday that Syrian troops are located in Dair al-Ashair, on the border, but that the position fell within Lebanese territory.

    "We will speak with Syria about this when I visit Damascus," he told France's Le Monde newspaper. Miqati is to travel to the Syrian capital on Wednesday on his first foreign visit since taking office in mid-April.

    The Lebanese leader is expected to hold meetings with Syrian officials "aimed at consolidating relations and cooperation between the two brotherly countries," the official Sana news agency reported.

    Miqati, who is believed to be close to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, would also discuss "the recent developments in Lebanon and the Arab region," Sana said.

    Joint panel

    Syria had supposedly completed pulling out its troops from Lebanon on 26 April, ending a 29-year military presence in its smaller neighbour.

    "We are certain that
    the Syrian position falls within Lebanese territory"

    Najib Miqati,
    Lebanon Prime Minister

    A Syrian official said on Tuesday the Lebanese and Syrian army general commands had decided to "form a joint military commission composed of officers and topographical experts to examine the question".

    The Dair al-Ashair area is known to be poorly demarcated.

    For its part, the Lebanese opposition has pressed for 11th-hour changes to the forthcoming elections.

    Several parties have asked for revisions to the constituency boundaries established at the last elections in 2000, and after a five-day parliamentary recess for public holidays, Wednesday will be their last opportunity to change the law.

    Controvesial law

    But so far parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a pro-Syrian Shia, has rebuffed calls for a debate.

    "It is all in Berri's hands," Christian opposition MP Nayla Moawad said.

    Some Lebanese MPs want the
    electoral boundaries changed

    "The 2000 electoral law is the worst. It was passed under Syrian tutelage in order to guarantee the control of the Syrian-Lebanese intelligence services over the Lebanese parliament," she said.

    Another opposition MP, who asked not to be identified, said he feared Berri would prevent any debate as the existing law favoured his Amal faction.

    An earlier attempt by the opposition to put forward amendments in a parliamentary committee last Thursday proved abortive after they failed to reach a quorum.

    Most opposition MPs said they would prefer to see the elections go ahead on schedule later this month, as required by the constitution, rather than delaying them for the sake of changing the boundaries.

    UN visit

    In a separate development, a UN team visited several former Syrian military bases in east Lebanon on Tuesday in their first field mission to verify whether Damascus withdrew all its forces from Lebanon, Aljazeera reported.

    The eight-member team, which arrived in Beirut last week, checked at least seven sites previously used by the Syrian troops and intelligence agents in the Bekaa Valley, a Lebanese security source said.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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