Syria pulls out 4,000 troops from Lebanon under U.S. pressure

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

NICOSIA Syria plans to again redeploy its military in neighboring Lebanon and could withdraw up to 4,000 soldiers from the country.

Officials said the details of the redeployment were discussed on Tuesday during military cooperation talks between Lebanese and Syrian commanders in Beirut. A joint delegation of Lebanese and Syrian commanders also briefed Lebanese President Emile Lahoud of the Syrian deployment plans.

"Talks during both meetings dealt with cooperation and coordination between the two armies including redeployment of some Syrian army units serving in Lebanon according to the defensive and security requirements," the official Syrian news agency SANA said.

The agency did not provide details of the deployment, but officials said up to 4,000 troops would be withdrawn from the northern area of Batroun.

This is the second time in less than three years that Syria has announced a redeployment of forces in Lebanon.

The deployment began on Wednesday and is expected to end over the weekend. Batroun is mostly populated by Christians. Syrian military positions in Mount Lebanon are also expected to be dismantled.

But Syrian troops are expected to maintain their positions along the highway that links the capital of Beirut to the northern city of Tripoli. On Wednesday, about 40 Syrian military trucks were seen leaving Batroun for Tripoli.

Western diplomatic sources said the Syrian redeployment was in response to U.S. pressure. Congress wants to impose additional sanctions on Damascus unless it ends the harboring of groups deemed as terrorists and withdraws from Lebanon.

In 2001, Syria withdrew an estimated 6,000 soldiers from the Beirut area. Most of them were relocated to the Bekaa Valley, along the Lebanese-Syrian border, where Syrian troops and bases are concentrated. About 20,000 Syrian troops are said to be deployed in Lebanon, with thousands of troops brought into the country in April 2002. Western diplomatic sources said most of them are in the area of the Bekaa Valley and southern Lebanon.

The Syrian news agency said the redeployment plans comes within the framework of a 1989 Taif agreement for the removal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. The Syrian military delegation to Lebanon was led by Syrian Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Hassan Turkmeni.

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