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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 September, 2004, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
Syria shifts troops from Beirut
Syrian troops at a checkpoint near Beirut
Syrian troops have been in Lebanon for 28 years
Syrian forces in Lebanon have begun moving back towards the Syrian border, as part of a major redeployment.

Troops dismantled bases south-east of Beirut, before regrouping and heading towards the eastern Bekaa Valley.

The move comes three weeks after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution urging Syria to withdraw from Lebanon.

Up to 3,000 troops out of a total of 17,000 were relocating from positions around the Lebanese capital, according to Lebanese military sources.

It is unclear whether the redeployment will lead to a full withdrawal of the Syrian troops, which have been based in the country since 1976.

Talks

Lebanese Defence Minister Mahmoud Hammoud said after talks with top Syrian defence officials that the redeployment indicated "the security situation in Lebanon is becoming more stabilised", AP news agency reported.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is due to present a report to the Security Council on compliance with Resolution 1559 in two weeks' time.

The resolution - sponsored by the US and France - called for Lebanon's political independence to be respected and demanded the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country - a request repeated last week by US envoy William Burns.

Lebanon had rejected the resolution as interference in its internal affairs and said its close relations with Syria would not change.

US pressure

Neither Lebanese nor Syrian officials have made any mention of Resolution 1559 and BBC correspondent Kim Ghattas says that unless the redeployment was a prelude to a withdrawal, it is unlikely it will satisfy the UN.

Syrian troops packing up in Aramoun, south of Beirut
Syrians packing up will be a welcome sight to many Lebanese
The United States has recently stepped up pressure on Syria to pull its forces out of Lebanon and stop supporting Islamic militant groups there.

Syria first sent troops into Lebanon in 1976, at the beginning of the civil war there.

Most of the forces stayed on in the country after the conflict ended in 1990.

Officials said Syrian soldiers had begun evacuating hilltop positions in the coastal towns of Aramoun, Chuweifat, Damour, Doha and Khaldeh, south of Beirut.

Some Lebanese opponents of the Syrian presence in the country said the redeployment was not sufficient and called for complete withdrawal.

"We demand that Syria change its performance in Lebanon," said Gibran Tueni, who is an opposition politician and general manager of Lebanon's Nahar newspaper.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Kim Ghattas
"Syria does appear to be responding to the pressure"



SEE ALSO:
US tells Syria to leave Lebanon
11 Sep 04  |  Middle East
Syria feels squeeze over Lebanon
05 Sep 04  |  Middle East
UN backs Lebanon sovereignty call
03 Sep 04  |  Middle East
Country profile: Lebanon
09 Jul 04  |  Country profiles


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