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News :: International
Powell urges Syria to end occupation of Lebanon
20 Mar 2004
Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Saturday repeated calls made Friday by the State Department for an end to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon so that Lebanon could enjoy "full sovereignty."
Powell called on Damascus to withdraw its troops from Lebanon so that the Beirut government can assume its sovereign responsibilities throughout the entire country

Syria keeps between 20 000 and 40 000 of its troops in Lebanon, and is the de facto power in the country. The troops were sent into Lebanon in 1976 to help put an end to the ethnic fighting.

"Syria has been in Lebanon for a number of years. We have always made it clear that we would like to see Syria withdraw from Lebanon, for Lebanon to enjoy full sovereignty over its land and over its people," Powell told a press conference.

"This is our policy and will continue to be so," Powell said when asked about a call by US State Department spokesman Friday for Syria to pull out.

"It is time for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon," Khoury was quoted as saying in an interview with the French-language daily L'Orient-Le Jour, referring to the troops Damascus keeps in Lebanon.

"The old arguments that this presence was necessary as collateral for recovering the Golan (Heights from Israel) or to protect Syria's flank in the event of an Israeli attack are now obsolete and out of date," Khoury said.

Powell, speaking at a press conference at Kuwait Internaiolnal Airport following a brief trip to Iraq and US allies in the region, said Washington encourages the government of Lebanon to deploy its army throughout the country, including its border with Israel.

Powell said the Lebanese army could guarantee security along this border. Damascus gives the terrorist Hizbullah group a free hand to run Lebanon's border with Israel.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud dismissed calls from Washington Friday for Damascus to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, insisting they provided a stabilizing factor for his country and the Middle East.

"The Syrian presence in Lebanon is an internal and regional stabilizing factor," Lahoud told a German parliamentary delegation here, according to a statement issued by the presidential palace.
"Syria helped Lebanon safeguard its unity, rebuild its national army and facilitated the liberation of most of the south of the country occupied by Israel," Lahoud said.

Powell said that the Bush administration believes a deficit in political and economic freedom in the Muslim world is a key factor fueling terrorism. "It must come from within the region," Powell told a news conference at Kuwait International Airport.

"It must come from each country examining its own history, its own culture, its own state, social and political development and making a judgment as to how it is going to go forward into the future," Reuters quoted him as saying.

Powell arrived from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he said the United States would help Arab countries move toward democracy, but it has no intention of imposing that system.

While the United States stands ready to help, "each nation has to find its own path and follow that path at its own rate of speed," he said.

The Syrian army gradually invaded Lebanon starting early seventies by forming and training Syrian-Palestinian guerrillas called Sai'qa.

They started a civil war in Lebanon that led to a larger Syrian involvement in Lebanon. On October 13, 1990 the Syrian army completely occupied Lebanon capturing the Capital Beirut and the Presidential palace after air raids.

The Syrian forces have been committing all types of terrorism against the Lebanese people assassinating their leaders and massacring civilians for the past three decades. Syrians have formed, trained and sponsored terrorist groups that carried terrorist attacks against the Lebanese people, other Arab countries and Western interests in Lebanon and abroad.
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