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PRESS BRIEFING BY SPECIAL ENVOY TERJE ROED-LARSEN

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

17 March 2005

Following his meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Terje Roed-Larsen told correspondents at a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon that the Secretary-General expected the full withdrawal of all Syrian troops, including the intelligence apparatus and military assets, to take place before the Lebanese parliamentary elections.

Mr. Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559 -- which calls for withdrawing all foreign forces from Lebanon, disbanding all militias and extending Government control over the whole country -- was in New York to brief the Secretary-General on his meetings in Europe, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. He outlined the details of the understanding reached between himself and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Aleppo on 12 March.

The Secretary-General, stated Mr. Roed-Larsen, further stressed that the Lebanese elections should be free and fair and take place as scheduled. He also urged all concerned parties to work together to safeguard the stability and national unity of Lebanon. Mr. Roed-Larsen would return to the region in early April to finalize the draft of the report that the Secretary-General would deliver to the Security Council on 19 April.

In response to a series of questions, Mr. Roed-Larsen stated that he stayed in constant touch with Lebanese and Syrian counterparts. The sovereignty of Lebanon, free and fair elections, withdrawal of Syrian military and intelligence apparatus, and the presence of militias were all topics in that ongoing dialogue.

As to why the withdrawal should take place before the elections, scheduled for sometime between mid-April and mid-May, he said that the issue of free and fair elections were important related to the Security Council resolutions concerned with Lebanon’s sovereignty. It was important for the Lebanese that the presence of armed forces and intelligence apparatus were not there during the election period.

The understanding, he continued, was that the withdrawal would take place in two phases. In the first phase, the Syrian President had committed to withdraw all Syrian troops and intelligence operatives and assets to the BekaaValley. Two thirds of them would stand on the Lebanese side; one third would be put into Syria proper by 1 April, at the latest. By and large, that commitment was already fulfilled.

The second phase, he went on, would start with the convening, at the latest by 7 April, of a joint Syrian-Lebanese military committee to decide the precise timelines for the full withdrawal. The Secretary-General, he reiterated, expected the second phase to be completed before the elections.

He had been observing, over the past few days, that intelligence offices had been closed down, including the intelligence headquarters in Beirut, which had been vacated, as well as several houses at the disposal of Syrian intelligence. Verifying Syria’s withdrawal would be his responsibility, he noted, adding that finding out if every intelligence operative was out of Lebanon would be impossible. What was possible to verify was that key intelligence officers, the whereabouts of whom were known by all Lebanese, had vacated.

As to whether he had any doubt that Syria ordered the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Mr. Roed-Larsen said it would be totally inappropriate for him to comment on that question. The Secretary-General had appointed an inquiry into the matter, headed by Peter FitzGerald, who had just arrived in New York. Political assassinations had not been on the agenda between himself and President Assad, he stated.

Asked if the United Nations had a double standard concerning Syria’s occupation of Lebanon and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, Mr. Roed-Larsen noted that the United Nations participated in the “Quartet”, which had produced the Road Map, which had set a timetable for the implementation of all relevant resolutions.

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