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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 February, 2005, 17:55 GMT
Syria 'to shift Lebanon troops'
Anti-Syrian demonstration in Beirut, 23 February 2005
Anti-Syrian sentiment is growing in Lebanon
Syria is to move some of its troops stationed in Lebanon closer to its own border, Lebanon's Defence Minister, Abdel Rahim Mrad, has said.

Mr Mrad said forces would be redeployed to the eastern Bekaa Valley, where the remaining Syrian troops are based.

The announcement came after Syria said it would co-operate with the UN over implementing a resolution calling for foreign troops to leave Lebanon.

Pressure has grown on Syria in the past week to withdraw its 15,000 troops.

They are a remnant from the civil war which ended in 1990.

The BBC's Orla Guerin says Syria could well move the troops to the border quickly in the hope of easing international pressure, but may resist going further than this.

Under pressure

Mr Mrad told Lebanon's New TV station the "decision to withdraw [to the Bekaa Valley] has been taken. What remains is the exact timing."

"After this redeployment, all the Syrian forces will be in the Bekaa," AFP news agency quoted him as saying.

Syria has redeployed its troops in Lebanon several times before, most recently in September 2004.

It is unclear whether a further troop movement would be a prelude to a complete withdrawal.

Earlier, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed al-Mualem said Damascus had a "keen interest" in implementing the 2004 UN resolution.

It was the first announcement from Syria concerning the withdrawal of troops since protests erupted in Lebanon following the 14 February car bomb death of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Syrian soldier in Bekaa Valley
1989 Arab-brokered deal to end Lebanese civil war
Calls for pullback of Syrian troops to Bekaa Valley
Lebanon and Syria to agree on duration of troops' presence
Lebanese opposition groups have blamed Syria for the killing, a charge Syria has strongly denied.

Mr Hariri had called on Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon shortly before he died.

Mr Mualem said a withdrawal would be carried out in line with the agreement which ended the Lebanese civil war.

The 1989 Taif Accord calls for a phased withdrawal of Syrian troops, beginning with redeployment to the Bekaa Valley, but leaves the timing to be decided by the Syrian and Lebanese governments.

'Security vacuum'

The United States, which co-sponsored UN Resolution 1559 along with France, has recently stepped up pressure on Damascus to comply.

But Mr Mualem issued a warning, saying: "The continuation inside and outside Lebanon of provocations and incitement against Syria and Lebanon risks leading to negative developments that will harm the interests of all concerned."

He said Syria was worried that a rapid withdrawal would lead to a security vacuum in Lebanon.

"Syria believes that before accelerating the rhythm of its withdrawals, it will be necessary for the Lebanese army and security forces to be in a position to fill the vacuum without damaging the security of Lebanon or Syria."

Lebanon's pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami echoed the concern in an interview with Reuters news agency.

"In our opinion, [an immediate Syrian withdrawal] would shake the stability of the country," he said.

"[A Syrian withdrawal] can only take place through consensus," he added.

Why Syria is resisting full withdrawal of troops

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