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Lebanese Prime Minister Welcomes UN Election Observers


Lebanon's Prime Minister met with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Friday, to discuss reform in Lebanon in the wake of Syria's withdrawal from the country.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati characterized his meeting with the Secretary-General as "very constructive," saying his country is preparing for free elections later this month. "It is on the top of the Lebanese agenda today to have a fair, free and transparent election. Therefore Lebanon, who has welcomed European Union observers, will welcome likewise any such mission that comes through the United Nation or its agencies," he said.

Mr. Mikati says it is in Lebanon's interest to have a U.N. team to ratify that Syria has fully withdrawn its troops after a 29-year military presence in his country. His statement comes only days after armed Palestinians in the Beqaa Valley fired warning shots when a U.N. team arrived to investigate the Syrian withdrawal.

That incident especially concerns U.N. officials because Security Council Resolution 1559 mandates, among other things, that all militias operating in Lebanon be disbanded and disarmed.

After their meeting, Secretary-General Annan issued a statement reiterating his call for full implementation of resolution 1559.

But Prime Minister Mikati said that he does not believe forces such as Hezbollah must be disarmed in order to comply with the resolution. "In fact, 1559 calls for the Lebanese militia and we consider Hezbollah 'resistance' approved by April understanding 1996," he said.

Prime Minister Mikati's reference was to an U.S. brokered ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon in April 1996. He said groups defined as "resistance" forces should be dealt with internally. "We insist that the solution for Hezbollah arms will mainly come as a result of Lebanese nationwide dialogue," he said.

On a hopeful note, the prime minister says Lebanon would cooperate with an international commission investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The February 14 assassination threw Lebanon into a state of political upheaval that led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops and intelligence agents from the country.

The Security Council approved resolution 1559 last September at the urging of the United States and France. In addition to its call for the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanese territory, it also calls on Lebanon to exert full control over its territory, including the disarming of groups such as Hezbollah and armed Palestinian entities.

In a report to the Council last month, Secretary General Annan said he had been notified of the Syrian withdrawal, but said no progress had been made on other aspects of 1559.