Syria begins re-deploying troops in Lebanon
DAMASCUS: Syria began a long-awaited redeployment of its troops in Lebanon on Tuesday in the face of heavy international pressure for Damascus to end its political and military domination of its tiny neighbour.
Syrian forces evacuated four small posts situated on a hilltop in Aramoun, about 15 kilometers (nine miles) south of Beirut, as part of the troop pullback eastwards towards the Syrian border.
The move, 28 years after Syria first sent in troops a year after the outbreak of the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war, followed talks between Syrian Defence Minister General Hassan Turkmani and Lebanese officials.
It also comes after both the United Nations and the United States ratcheted up the pressure on Damascus this month over its role in Lebanon. It was still not clear if the redeployment, the latest in a series since 2001, would lead to a complete pullout of Syrian troops which numbered as many as 35,000 at the end of the war.
“The redeployment comes... within the framework of the Taef Agreement and according to the Treaty of Fraternity, Friendship and Cooperation between the political and military leaderships of the two brotherly countries,” Lebanese Defence Minister Mahmud Hammud said in a statement.
The 1989 Taef national reconciliation agreement, which led to the end of the civil war, called for a Syrian army pullback to the eastern Bekaa Valley, but did not set a date for the full pullout.
“This steps shows that the improving security situation and stability in Lebanon have allowed (for the troop redeployment),” Hammud said. “Lebanon will continue to coordinate with Syria in this field and all other fields in the interests of the two brotherly countries and peoples.” Lebanese presidential spokesman Rafiq Shalala told AFP that Turkmani, on a previously announced visit met Tuesday with Lebanese army chief General Michel Sleiman.
The two delegations were due to visit President Emile Lahoud, a Damascus protege, to inform him about the military process.
“The redeployement comes in line with the continued coordination between Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, according to the Taef agreement,” he said.
Shalala said the redeployment was set to take place in the mountains surrounding Beirut from the north to the southeast as well as in northern Lebanon, but said full details would be released later. afp