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Lebanon Watches for Signs of Syrian Redeployment

Lebanese are watching for signs of Syria's announced troop redeployment. The latest reports indicate Syrian forces have yet to move from their current positions.

About the only thing anyone is talking about here in Beirut, is Syria's impending troop redeployment, announced Thursday. Both Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister and Lebanon's Defense Minister insisted Thursday that Syria would soon redeploy its troops to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

Eyewitnesses along Lebanon's strategic Beirut-to-Damascus highway say they have seen no sign of any Syrian troop movements yet and many are openly questioning Syria's intentions.

Exiled former military commander, General Michel Aoun, a staunch opponent of Syria's presence in Lebanon, insists that Syria must, "pull all of its troops out of Lebanon immediately, in accordance with UN resolution 1559."

Both President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac have also stressed, repeatedly, that Syria must withdraw all of its estimated 14,000 troops from its smaller neighbor.

Beirut's influential An Nahar newspaper is also complaining that Syria's intention to redeploy does not include its feared secret police. Lebanese opposition politicians, including Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, have accused Syria's secret police of being responsible for the car bomb which killed former Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri.

A team of international experts, sent by the United Nations, arrived in Beirut Thursday to investigate Mr. Hariri's death.

Arab satellite TV Al Arabiya, based in Dubai, reported Thursday that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had given Syria until the end of March to withdraw its troops. A U.N. spokesman later denied that Mr. Annan had delivered such an ultimatum.

In Beirut, Prime Minister Omar Karameh, as well as former Prime Minister Selim Hoss, both warned that a sudden Syrian withdrawal could have negative repercussions. Mr. Karameh asked, "Who will help Lebanon apply all the clauses of U.N. Resolution 1559, if the Syrian Army withdraws?" Mr. Karameh was reportedly referring to clauses in the resolution demanding the disarming of the militant Shi'ite Hezbollah militia, in addition to Palestinian fighters, spread across the country in refugee camps.

Prime Minister Karami's government faces a vote of no-confidence in parliament on Monday, and it is not clear whether he has the votes to remain in office.