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Annan expects full Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon by mid-April to mid-May

17 March 2005 United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today he expected the full withdrawal of all Syrian troops from Lebanon, including the intelligence apparatus and military assets, to take place before the Lebanese parliamentary elections scheduled for between mid-April and mid-May.

In a statement issued after he was briefed by his 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, Mr. Annan "stressed the great importance that these elections be free and fair and take place as scheduled."

The envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, briefed Mr. Annan on his recent meetings in Europe, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, in particular outlining the details of the understanding reached between the UN and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on 12 March in Aleppo, Syria.

Mr. Roed-Larsen told reporters after the briefing that he would return to the region in the first week of April to finalize the report that Mr. Annan is to deliver to the Security Council on 19 April.

Asked whether he had reached any conclusion in his talks with Syrian and Lebanese leaders on disbanding the militias, including Hezbollah, he replied that there was an ongoing dialogue and no conclusions had yet been reached.

He said the understanding he reached with President al-Assad involved two phases: first, the withdrawal by 1 April at the latest of all Syrian troops and intelligence assets to the eastern Bekaa Valley, with two thirds on the Lebanese side and one third in Syria; secondly, the convening by 7 April at the latest of a joint Syrian-Lebanese military committee to decide the precise timelines for the complete and full withdrawal.

The UN envoy noted that there was now a movement of military equipment into the Bekaa Valley and "we have been observing over the last few days that intelligence offices have been closed down, including the intelligence headquarters in Beirut."

Asked whether he told Mr. al-Assad that he would face sanctions if he did not comply, Mr. Roed-Larsen said the topic was not on the agenda.

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