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Annan: Syria must be out by spring

Maggie Farley Los Angeles Times

UNITED NATIONS – Secretary General Kofi Annan said Thursday that Syria must fully withdraw all its troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon before the Lebanese parliamentary elections scheduled for this spring, so that voters will not be intimidated.

Annan set out the timetable after meeting with his special envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, who recently returned from talks in the region to press Syria to comply with a Security Council resolution demanding a swift and total withdrawal. Annan stressed in a statement that the elections “be free and fair and take place as scheduled” from mid-April to mid-May.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has not publicly expressed his agreement, but Roed-Larsen said in a news conference that Assad assured him personally that it would be done. Roed-Larsen added that there was broad international consensus inside and outside the Security Council that the withdrawal should be complete before elections take place, but there is no threat of sanctions if Syria does not fully pull out.

“There isn’t an ‘or else,’ ” Roed-Larsen said. “We simply expect that it happens.”

The first phase of the withdrawal negotiated in Aleppo, Syria, on March 12 calls for Syria to withdraw all its troops and intelligence operatives to the Bekaa Valley. Two-thirds of them would stand on the Lebanese side of the border and one-third would return to Syria by April 1.

“By and large, this commitment is already fulfilled,” Roed-Larsen said, noting that of the 14,000 troops that were in Lebanon, at least 4,000 returned to Syria in the past week, with the rest remaining in the Bekaa. Syria’s intelligence headquarters in Beirut has been closed down, and offices in other parts of the country have been vacated, he said.

By April 7, a joint Syrian-Lebanese committee will decide the timeline to complete the withdrawal.

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