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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Beirut: Syrian Troops to Stay Into April

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Syrian troops will not withdraw completely from Lebanon until at least after an April 7 meeting between senior Syrian and Lebanese military officers to discuss their redeployment, Lebanon's foreign minister said Sunday.

Mahmoud Hammoud also said the joint military commission would set the "duration, time and location in these matters." He made the remarks after meeting with UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen in Beirut, a day after Roed-Larsen visited Syrian President Bashar Assad.

It was the first definitive word on when Syria will actually fix a date for full withdrawal.

Roed-Larsen indicated he had extracted a timetable for full withdrawal from Assad during their meeting Saturday, but would not reveal it until he had met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York this week.

Assad had told his parliament March 5 that Syria's 14,000 troops would be redeployed to Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley by March 31, but a complete withdrawal would be deferred until after later negotiations.

A senior Lebanese army officer said Sunday that some 4,000 Syrian soldiers had crossed the border into Syria since the troop pullout began on Tuesday.

"Another 4,000 soldiers in Lebanon's central mountains have redeployed to the Bekaa region. This is in addition to 6,000 troops already stationed in the Bekaa," the military official said on condition of anonymity.

He said the fate of the 10,000 troops remaining in the Bekaa would be discussed at the military commission.

"The commission will present proposals to the Lebanese and Syrian governments about the status of Syrian forces redeployed in the Bekaa and define these forces' relationship with local authorities," the official said.

Syria has been the main power broker in Lebanon for nearly three decades since sending troops to its smaller neighbor in 1976 to help quell a year-old civil war. The troops, at times numbering more than 35,000, remained after the war ended in 1990.

Facing heavy international pressure, Syria recently began withdrawing its troops from parts of Lebanon, in line with the 1989 Taif agreement that ended the civil war.

On Sunday, Roed-Larsen said his mission in both Lebanon and Syria was to ensure implementation of UN Resolution 1559, which calls for Syria to fully withdraw its troops from Lebanon and end its interference in internal Lebanese affairs.

"This is the one and only topic of my mission here. I think that our consensus had been very good and friendly and very frank. We discussed all issues related to the Security Council Resolution 1559 and its implementation," Roed-Larsen said after meeting with Hammoud. He said implementing the resolution was "in the best interest of all parties concerned and will take into consideration the necessity of political stability in Lebanon."

Meanwhile, Russia says it backs a withdrawal but is reluctant to set deadlines. Its UN ambassador, Andrei Denisov, said it would be "reasonable" for troops to withdraw by May, but added:

"We think there is no need to fix any timetable. It is better to encourage them to act expeditiously." he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday the withdrawal had so far fallen short of U.S. demands for a full pullout.

(AP, Reuters)