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Syria To Move Troops in Lebanon Eastward

Syria and Lebanon have agreed that Syrian troops will redeploy to Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley by the end of March. The announcement falls short of international demands for a total Syrian pullout.

Presidents Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Emile Lahoud of Lebanon made the announcement after talks in Damascus.

A joint statement said Syria's 14,000 troops in Lebanon will move to the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon by the end of March.

After that, military officials from both countries will confer on how many Syrian forces will remain in Bekaa, and for how long.

The announcement leaves Syria open to more international demands to abide by a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a total and immediate pullout from Lebanon.

As the presidents met, tens of thousands of Lebanese held an anti-Syria rally in Beirut on the third week anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, whose killing has increased pressure on Syria to withdraw.

In comments to VOA, many of the participants said Syria's troops and spies must leave so that Lebanon can reclaim its independence.

DRUDGE: "Why are you here today?"

1ST MAN: "Well, just to express my solidarity with the rest of us Lebanese people, in our hope for freedom and democracy, basically."

2ND MAN: "We want to be free. That's what we want. We want to build an economy. We want to put Lebanon again on the map, on the world map. That's what we want."

WOMAN: "Please, please, I beg you from all the world, leave us alone. We want peace. We want prosperity. We want independence. Enough is enough."

Another demonstration is planned for Tuesday by the pro-Syrian Hezbollah militant organization at the Beirut office of the United Nations.

Hezbollah says the aim is to protest against the U.N. resolution, which was sponsored by France and the United States. The resolution also demands the dismantling of all militias, including that of Hezbollah.

Leaders of the group say the resolution amounts to foreign interference in Lebanon's internal affairs.