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UN to Help Lebanon Organize May Elections

The United Nations is dispatching a team of experts to Lebanon to help organize parliamentary elections. U.N. diplomats are concerned at Syria's continuing involvement in Lebanese affairs.

U.N. special envoy for Syria and Lebanon Terje Roed Larsen told the Security Council Friday that Lebanese authorities have accepted an offer of help with elections that will begin May 29.

"U.N. electoral experts will arrive in Beirut early next week with the full understanding of the government of Lebanon. These advisers will seek to assist the government in its preparations for such free and credible elections," he said.

But Mr. Larsen admitted that there is still a long way to go to achieve full implementation of Resolution 1559, which mandates, among other things, that all militias operating in Lebanon be disbanded and disarmed. And he told the council the Beirut government still lacks control over much of the country.

"The government of Lebanon does not yet fully exert control over all its territory,” he added. “It is the secretary-general's strong belief that more needs to be done to meet the Council's call for extended measures to ensure the return of effective governmental authority throughout the south of Lebanon."

After the briefing, deputy U.S. ambassador Stuart Holliday welcomed the withdrawal of Syria's military forces, but noted that much more needs to be done to implement council resolution 1559.

"We remain concerned about reports of continuing Syrian involvement and interference in Lebanese internal affairs,” said Mr. Holiday. “Of course we continue as we did in the resolution to call for the disbanding of all militias in Lebanon. There is no role for armed militias in Lebanon, especially Hezbollah, as the Lebanese people seek to build a more hopeful and democratic future."

Secretary-General Kofi Annan said after the meeting that he hopes Hezbollah and other militias can be persuaded to disband peacefully. Otherwise, he suggested Lebanese troops might need to dislodge them by force.

Kofi Annan
"Hopefully, the groups concerned will agree to disarm themselves and cooperate with the Lebanese authorities because it is not going to be an easy task if it has to be done by force or imposition," said Mr. Annan.

Mr. Annan noted that a U.N. team had arrived in Lebanon to verify Syria's withdrawal in line with Resolution 1559.

A separate U.N. team is in Beirut to lay the groundwork for an international investigation into the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The Security Council ordered the international probe April seventh after a U.N. fact-finding panel determined that Lebanon's own investigation suffered from serious flaws and had failed to reach a credible conclusion.

U.S. Ambassador Holliday Friday urged Secretary-General Annan to promptly name a commission to investigate the Hariri assassination.