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Security Council Pressures Syria to Withdraw Troops from Lebanon

The U.N. Security Council has stepped up pressure on Syria to withdraw its 14,000 troops from Lebanon.

The Council ordered Secretary-General Kofi Annan to submit a progress report twice a year on Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon.

The order is a follow-up to a U.S. and French-sponsored resolution adopted last month demanding that all foreign troops be removed from Lebanon. On October first, the Secretary-General reported that Syria had failed to comply with the resolution.

Tuesday's order came in the form of a statement endorsed by all 15 Council members. Two Muslim countries on the Council, Algeria and Pakistan, reluctantly agreed to the non-binding statement after it became clear they could not block an identical draft resolution, which would have had the force of law.

Nevertheless, deputy U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson expressed satisfaction at the unanimous Council support for the order. She noted that the earlier resolution requires Syria to cease interference in Lebanon's internal affairs and disarm militias, as well as removing its troops.

"We are going to be monitoring that very carefully over the next months as apparently are other Security Council members and the secretary-general," she said. "We are hopeful, and perhaps years of history would suggest we should not be so hopeful, but we are hopeful that Syria will take a message from this resolution and from the unanimous, and we stress unanimous decision of the Security Council."

Both Syria and Lebanon have called last month's Security Council withdrawal demand an interference in their internal affairs.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Faisal Mekdad was openly contemptuous of Tuesday's Security Council action. He charged that the issue is different from the way it has been portrayed by sponsors of the resolution.

"The Council's duties have always shown internal matters are not the business of the Council," he said. "Champions of this draft statement know very well what the charter implies. In fact, relations between Syria and Lebanon are based on mutual respect and understanding, and when Syria has presented its help to Lebanon to stop a very destructive civil war, it was upon the request of the Lebanese people."

Syria and Lebanon were a single unit before World War I. France, operating under a League of Nations mandate, divided the region into two countries in 1920.

Syria sent troops to Lebanon in 1976 at the request of Lebanese authorities to help quell a civil war. They have been there since.

The issue of their remaining presence came to the fore last month when the Security Council tried unsuccessfully to keep Lebanon's parliament from amending the constitution and extending Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud's term for three years.