DATE=6/2/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=LEBANON AFTER THE WITHDRAWAL NUMBER=5-46434 BYLINE=ED WARNER DATELINE=WASHINGTON CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Flush with victory, Hezbollah is acting with moderation. After the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, the successful resistance fighters are curtailing violence, refraining from revenge and pledging their support of the Lebanese government. But they have emerged as a much enhanced power within Lebanon, and how they will use it remains to be seen. They will inevitably cause yet another shift in the complex politics of a small country that remains in the grip of outside forces, in particular Syria. V-O-A's Ed Warner reports the outlook for Lebanon now that it has recovered its territory from Israel. TEXT: Syria and Lebanon may have the closest relations of any countries on earth, and not by choice on Lebanon's part. Starting in 1975, Syrian forces intervened in the civil wars convulsing the country. There they have stayed, generally suppressing conflict and sometimes contributing to it, and always in Syria's best interest. Some 30-thousand Syrian troops are stationed in Lebanon, mostly out of sight in the Bekaa Valley, close to the Syrian border. Nobody knows how many Syrian security forces out of uniform patrol the country. An estimated one-million Syrians work in more progressive Lebanon and prefer to put their money in its private banks rather than the state-owned one in their country. They also enjoy more freedom in Lebanon than they have back home. Lebanese benefit from cheaper Syrian goods, which also undercut local businesses. Now that Israelis have withdrawn from the south, there is more grumbling about Syrian control. But Lebanese know not to carry their criticism too far. Punishment awaits the indiscreet. Roscoe Suddarth, president of the Middle East Institute in Washington, says Lebanese politicians get their guidance from Syria. If they fail to heed it, they soon learn the perils of running for public office: /// 1st SUDDARTH ACT /// There is an understanding at all levels of the Lebanese government that they are not going to take any strategic moves, from the president right on down, without consultation with Syria. The Syrians exert their control on the ground through a military commander, but also through someone who is in the Lebanese security forces and a very powerful member of the Lebanese cabinet. /// END ACT /// Mr. Suddarth, a former U-S ambassador to Jordan, says Syria plans a permanent presence in its smaller neighbor. As evidence, President Hafez al-Assad has assigned supervision of Lebanon to his son and possible successor, Bashar. Talcott Seelye, a former U-S diplomat in the Middle East, says many Lebanese think the Israeli withdrawal ends the need for a Syrian presence: /// SEELYE ACT /// I understand that Syria in response to this has withdrawn security checkpoints in and around Beirut, but I am pretty sure they will stay in the Bekaa Valley indefinitely. Syria feels that its presence there has been a stabilizing factor, and of course, they have always felt that Lebanon is an integral part of the Syrian homeland. So I think it is unlikely Syria will withdraw in the near future, even though the Israelis have. /// END ACT /// Fresh from their victory, as they see it, in southern Lebanon, the Hezbollah are expected to assume a larger role in Lebanese politics, and increase their seats in parliamentary elections in August. Ambassador Suddarth says Lebanon remains as politically divided as ever: /// 2nd SUDDARTH ACT /// There is still a lot of bad sectarian blood in Lebanon, and they have a very fragile constitution, which gives inordinate power politically to the Christians. That is being chipped away, particularly as the Shia, who are the most populous part of Lebanon, are beginning to gain more and more political power. But the Christians are not wont [inclined] to give up political power. So I think Lebanon is still a society in formation. /// end act /// Mr. Suddarth says politicians continue to speak for various sects rather than for Lebanon as a whole. A prime minister once remarked: "The Lebanese will all do well. The question is: Will Lebanon?" Talcott Seelye thinks sectarian tensions have eased to some degree: /// SEELYE ACT /// Obviously, there are still some rivalries and bitterness from the 17-year civil war, but it is remarkable how much reconciliation there has been. For example, the Lebanese army, which fell apart during the civil war along sectarian lines, has in the last 10 years been rebuilt -- a cohesive army where all the various religious sects work together. /// END ACT /// Still unreconciled to Lebanon are the 300-thousand Palestinian refugees living in the country, packed into a dozen squalid camps. They are denied citizenship or decent jobs because Lebanese fear they will upset the country's shaky sectarian balance. Their fate and that of Lebanon is thus dependent on an overall peace agreement that will finally provide a home for the people dispossessed by Israel. (Signed) NEB/EW/WTW 02-Jun-2000 16:09 PM EDT (02-Jun-2000 2009 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .
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