UN verifies Syrian troop pullout

A UN military team has verified the pullout of all Syrian troops from Lebanon but says it cannot not be certain all intelligence operatives have left the country.

    The last of the Syrian soldiers left Lebanon on 26 April

    UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Terje Roed Larsen, his special envoy on the Lebanon-Syria issue, called the results positive.

    But the team's report on Monday was not the clear-cut statement Syria had hoped for.

    A report by the UN team said all the locations formerly used by Syria's military intelligence apparatus were empty, and it therefore concluded "to the best of its ability, that no Syrian military intelligence personnel remain in Lebanon in known locations or in military uniform".

    Intelligence withdrawal

    "But the team has been unable to conclude with certainty that all the intelligence apparatus has been withdrawn," the report said, stressing that "intelligence activities are by nature often clandestine".

    Annan has lauded the pullout as
    a positive development  

    Before the report was released, Annan said the UN team "verified all the withdrawal, including the border area".

    But he said there was still a question about one border area, Deir Al Ashayr, which has not been demarcated and where a Syrian battalion was still deployed.

    The UN team said there was no clear demarcation of the Lebanon-Syria border.

    The status of the Syrian battalion will be clarified once the two governments conclude a border agreement that will determine whether Deir Al Ashayr is part of Lebanon or Syria, it said.

    The UN Security Council adopted a resolution last September calling on Syria to withdraw all its troops and intelligence operatives from Lebanon. But it was the 14 February assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri that spurred the Syrians to leave.

    Anti-Syrian protests

    The assassination caused an uproar in Lebanon, sparking massive anti-Syrian street protests that forced the pro-Syrian Beirut government to resign.

    The Lebanese opposition claimed Syria orchestrated the killing and demanded Damascus end its interference in Lebanese politics and withdraw its troops from the country.

    Syria denies any involvement in al-Hariri's assassination, and no one has yet been charged. The UN is sending an independent commission to investigate the killing.

    Syria's last soldier in Lebanon crossed the border on 26 April, ending a 29-year military presence in Lebanon.

    Syria sent troops to its smaller neighbour in 1976 to help quell what was then a year-old civil war, but the troops remained after the war ended in 1990.

    The UN dispatched a team led by Senegalese Brigadier-General Mouhamadou Kandji, the deputy military adviser for the UN peacekeeping department, to verify the withdrawal.

    "But the team has been unable to conclude with certainty that all the intelligence apparatus has been withdrawn"

    UN report on Syrian pullout

    It began checking on 1 May and spent 10 days visiting locations where Syrian troops and intelligence officials had been based.

    No Syrian assets

    "After travelling more than 1500km in Lebanon and visiting 133 former Syrian troops and military intelligence positions, the team found no Syrian military forces, assets or intelligence apparatus in Lebanese territory, with the exception of one Syrian battalion deployed near Deir Al Ashayr," the UN team reported.

    The team did not recommend a further verification mission at this stage, saying a new team would only retrace its steps "and would still be unable to verify the complete withdrawal of clandestine intelligence apparatus".

    Citing the "positive reports," Annan said, "lots of progress has been made and I think the UN should be proud about this".

    "In the year 2000, we worked with the Lebanese and the Israelis to see to the withdrawal of Israeli troops, and today it is the Syrian troops that have been withdrawn, and so in principles Lebanon should be free of all foreign forces today."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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