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Syrian Troops Begin Partial Wirthdrawal From Lebanon - 2004-09-21

Lebanon's national news agency is reporting Syrian Army troops have begun redeploying from forward positions, along the Lebanese coast, to positions near the Lebanese-Syrian border.

The Syrian move to withdraw its troops from strategic locations along the Lebanese coast follows weeks of intense discussions between American officials and Damascus.

Beirut's An Nahar newspaper revealed this morning that Syrian troops were preparing to withdraw from most coastal positions to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Lebanon's national news agency reports Syrian troops evacuated Damour and Aramoun, south of Beirut, early Tuesday, and will soon leave parts of northern Lebanon.

An Nahar Political Commentator Rajah Khoury says the move appears to be a reaction to international pressure on Damascus.

He says the main impetus seems to be a U.N. Security Council resolution, passed earlier this month, calling for all foreign troops to be withdrawn from Lebanese soil.

Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, although the Lebanese government argues that they still occupy the disputed Sheba'a Farms border region.

American Assistant Secretary of State William Burns met with Syrian President Bashar al Assad, 10 days ago, to discuss Syrian withdrawal.

The Taef Accords, which put an end to Lebanon's 15-year civil war in 1991, stipulated Syria must remove its troops to the Bekaa Valley for a 10-year interim period. Syria has conducted several cosmetic redeployments in recent years, but has never fully complied with the Taef Accords.

Analysts say Syria has 18,000 troops deployed on Lebanese soil, down from a 1991 high of 40,000.

Damascus has long argued it needs to keep troops inside Lebanon, as a strategic deterrent to any possible invasion by neighboring Israel.