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Syria Rejects Accusations it Has Agents in Lebanon  


Syria's ambassador to the United States says allegations that his country still has agents in Lebanon are "unjustified, inaccurate and unfair."

Syrian ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, told CNN's "Late Edition" his country left no agents in Lebanon when it pulled out last April.

"What we say in Syria is that we have made a strategic decision. We have withdrawn from Lebanon, completely and categorically," he says.

Mr. Moustapha added his belief that there are so-called "third forces," which are trying to sow discord between Syria and Lebanon.

"There are forces that do not want to see a good, friendly, brotherly relation between Syria and Lebanon, and they're creating this myth and these stories about Syria going to kill Lebanese leaders," Mr. Moustapha says.

Mr. Moustapha was responding to reports that Syria had a hit list targeting key Lebanese leaders, saying such reports are preposterous.

The Lebanese opposition and many foreign governments see Syria behind the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Damascus denies the charge.

President Bush said last Friday the reports of Syria's continuing presence in Lebanon are worrying.

"I have been disturbed by reports I read in today's newspaper that said that Syrian intelligence officers might still be in Lebanon, might still be there," Mr. Bush said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week responded to continuing reports of possible Syrian activity in Lebanon saying he may send a verification team back to the region.

"As you know they (the verification team) did go to Lebanon and Syria and they've submitted a report to the Security Council," Mr. Annan said. "We are now receiving reports that there may be elements that are still there and we are considering the possible return of the verification team to ascertain what's going on."

Kofi Annan
On Sunday, Mr. Annan's special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, then headed straight back to New York to brief the U.N. leader.

Meanwhile, Lebanese voters cast ballots in the third round of parliamentary elections. These are the first polls in Lebanon since Syrian troops withdrew from the country.

Ambassador Moustapha said Sunday his country wants good relations with Lebanon, whether the election results strengthen pro-Syria or anti-Syria forces.

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