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UN Team Verifies Full Syrian Withdrawal from Lebanon


A U.N. inspection team has verified the full withdrawal of all Syrian troops from Lebanon. Secretary General Kofi Annan certified the withdrawal in a report to the Security Council. "We have verified all the withdrawal, including all the border area. So, in principle, Lebanon should be free of all foreign forces today," he said.

The secretary-general submitted a report to the Council saying a verification team he sent to Lebanon last month had checked 133 former Syrian positions. All had been vacated except one, in the disputed Deir Al Ashayr region.

Mr. Annan said until the dispute over Deir Al Ashayr is settled, he would not classify the Syrian presence there as a violation of the Security Council's order that all foreign forces be withdrawn from Lebanon. "The border has not been fully demarcated, something we've encouraged them to look at carefully because there are conflicting claims about whether territory is in Lebanon or Syria."

The verification team report also hedged its findings on the pullout of Syrian intelligence assets. The authors noted that a withdrawal of intelligence apparatus was harder to document because such activities are by nature often clandestine.

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States would continue to push for a full withdrawal of all Syrian intelligence assets in Lebanon.

"But we cannot rest, Syria must also remove its intelligence forces and allow the Lebanese people to be free," she said.

Ms. Rice was speaking to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobby group.

The Security Council passed a U.S. and French-backed resolution last September demanding the pullout of all foreign forces from Lebanon. But it was the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February that prompted the intense pressure that resulted in Syria's pledge to withdraw by the end of April.

A separate U.N. team named to investigate Mr. Hariri's killing is expected to begin its work this week.

Syria had dominated Lebanese politics since 1975, when it sent soldiers to help end a civil war. An estimated 17,000 Syrian troops remained in the country at the time Mr. Hariri was assassinated.

The Hariri killing threw Lebanon into its worst political crisis since the war, leaving the country without a government for weeks and threatening to delay elections.

But Lebanon's new government won a vote of confidence in parliament last month. The elections are set to begin next Sunday.

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