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UN urges Lebanon to disband militia, set borders

Written by: Staff

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 19: Lebanon must set its borders with Syria and disband the Hizbollah militia before it can be master of its own nation, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said.

In turn, Syria should take up Beirut's offer of establishing diplomatic relations as well as demarcating the entire 250-km boundary between the two countries, Annan said in the report obtained by Reuters late yesterday.

''A united Lebanon has offered an out-stretched hand to Syria,'' Annan said. ''I call on Syria to accept this offer and undertake measures, in particular, to establish embassies and delineate the border between Syria and Lebanon.'' The 23-page report, prepared by UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, is a response to Security Council resolution 1559 of September 2004 that called for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon and for Lebanon to disarm militia so the Beirut government could control the entire country.

Syria and Lebanon have not had embassies on each other's territory since Western powers carved the two states out of the remnants of the Ottoman empire in 1920. Damascus says its many bilateral ties rather than embassies suffice for the present.

Damascus, which entered Lebanon in 1976 to quell a civil war, pulled its troops out a year ago after the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 22 others, which many blamed on Syria but which it denies. The murders resulted in mass anti-Syrian demonstrations.

Since Roed-Larsen's last report six months ago, Lebanese political leaders have initiated a national dialogue to resolve long-simmering disputes, which the report called ''a truly historic and unprecedented event.'' RESISTANCE AND BORDERS The Iran-supported Hizbollah, whose attacks helped end Israel's 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, has made no move to disband and join the Lebanese army.

Hizbollah's existence is linked directly to the border controversy, with the militia maintaining it provides resistance against a strip of the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, known as the Shebaa farms.

The United Nations, using dozens of maps, say Shebaa is part of Syria but the two nations were free to change the border, which they have not.

''Its current status as Israeli-occupied Syrian territory, does, however, remain valid unless and until the Governments of Lebanon and Syria take steps under international law to alter that status,'' Annan said.

Syria has proposed delineating the joint border in five stages, but has said that boundaries in occupied areas could not be set until a comprehensive West Asia peace agreement.

In February, 12 trucks of ammunition and Katyusha rockets crossed the border from Syria, with the Lebanese army saying they were necessary for Hizbollah resistance forces.

But Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a member of the country's anti-Syrian coalition, who is now visiting Washington before meeting Annan, told Roed-Larsen he would control further arms transfers and none ''have occurred since,'' the report said.

The national dialogue sessions are also to decide what to do about President Emile Lahoud, a staunch ally of Syria, who has clung to office despite pressure to resign. A change in the constitution to enable him to assume a third term prompted the Security Council's resolution 1559.

The report noted little progress on new elections, with several meetings of Lebanon's Council of Ministers canceled or postponed due to controversies over Lahoud.


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