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February 21, 2005

Lebanonwire

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Taef accord: the basis of Syrian troop presence in Lebanon

BEIRUT, Feb 21 (AFP) - The Taef accord which brought an end to the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war also lays down the legal basis for Syria's military presence in its smaller neighbour.

Syria is under mounting pressure from the international community and the opposition in Lebanon to pull out its troops and end its political domination of the country.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Monday he was willing to withdraw from Lebanon in line with the Taef accords, according to Arab League chief Amr Mussa who held talks with Syrian leaders in Damascus.

The Taef accord, which takes its name from the Saudi city where it was signed in 1989, paved the way for the 1990 end of Lebanon's 15-year civil war and set out a long-term basis for the presence of Syrian troops first deployed at the height of the conflict in 1976.

It called for Syria to start redeployments from Lebanon within two years of the conflict's finish, but an estimated 14,000 soldiers are still stationed in key positions, as well as an unknown number of intelligence agents.

UN Security Council Resolution 1559, passed in September over the strong opposition of both Syrian and Lebanese governments, demanded that "foreign forces withdraw without delay from Lebanon."

An earlier version of the French- and US-sponored text had even referred specifically to Syrian troops.

But the Taef agreement, which has come to be regarded as a de facto constitution for all of Lebanon's post-war governments, sets no deadline for the withdrawal of Syrian troops and establishes a special relationship between
the two countries.

The accord does call for the bulk of the Syrian force to be redeployed to the east of Lebanon's central mountains in the Bekaa Vally near their common border.

But it allows for the two governments to approve other deployments and decide on the duration of the troop presence as a whole.

After an interim period not exceeding two years, the agreement specifies that "the two governments ... shall decide to redeploy the Syrian forces in the (eastern) Bekaa valley... and if necessary, at other points to be determined by a joint Lebanese-Syrian military committee.

"An agreement shall also be concluded by the two governments to determine the strength and duration of the presence of Syrian forces in the above-mentioned area and to define these forces relationship with the Lebanese state authorities where the forces exist."

There have been a series of partial redeployments since June 2001, which have seen Syrian troop numbers fall from a high of 35,000 in 1989. Most are now deployed in the Bekaa or around the northern city of Tripoli.

Lebanon and Syria have justified their rejection of the resolution by what they say is a continued threat from Israel, which still occupies Syria's Golan Heights and the disputed Shebaa Farms region claimed by Beirut, and has continued to violate Lebanese airspace on a regular basis since its withdrawal of troops in May 2000.
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