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UN envoy backs Lebanese talks on Hizbollah weapons

Written by: Staff

BEIRUT, Mar 24 (Reuters) UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen met Lebanese officials today and offered support to national talks aimed at forging a deal over Hizbollah guerrillas that the Security Council wants disarmed.

''For the first time the Lebanese are sitting down together without international or third parties and discussing independently and domestically all the difficult issues facing Lebanon,'' Roed-Larsen said on arrival at Beirut airport late yesterday.

''Every single difficult issue is on the table.'' The Norwegian diplomat is due to present a report next month on progress in the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559, which demands that foreign troops leave Lebanon and the militias in the country disarm.

His visit to Beirut winds up a tour that took him around the region as well as to Paris and Moscow, but not to Damascus, which ended its 29-year military presence in Lebanon last year.

Roed-Larsen said after meeting Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh that it was up to Lebanon and Syria to reach an agreement over the ownership of the disputed Shebaa Farms area.

Lebanese leaders agreed at national talks last week that the Israeli-occupied strip was Lebanese but the United Nations and Israel consider it Syrian land occupied in 1967.

Syria agrees the area is Lebanese, but six years after Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon under pressure from Hizbollah attacks, has yet to provide documents to prove this.

Roed-Larsen arrived from Jordan where he discussed with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the fate of Palestinian militias based in Lebanon.

''I am much encouraged by my talks with the Palestinian president, which focused on the Palestinian militias in Lebanon,'' Roed-Larsen said in a statement. ''President Abbas's strong support for resolution 1559 is much appreciated.'' Lebanon's top politicial leaders, Muslim and Christian, pro- and anti-Syrian, have held several rounds of talks this month to try to end a political crisis that has paralysed the country.

They agreed last week to disarm Palestinian factions outside the country's 12 camps in six months and to reorganise weapons inside the camps, which are mainly run by Palestinian factions loyal to Abbas' Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

They also agreed to pursue normal diplomatic relations with Syria. Ties between the neighbours have been strained since the murder of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri prompted local and international pressure on Syria to withdraw.

Many Lebanese blame Syria for the killing. Syria denies any role.


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