Syrian FM warns against Lebanon troops on Israel border

Date: 03-28-06

BEIRUT (AFP) - Syria's foreign minister has counseled Lebanon against any decision to deploy its troops along the border with Israel, saying that could spark clashes that he suggested Lebanon might not win.

In comments to Lebanon's As-Safir newspaper, Walid Mouallem also recommended that Lebanon adopt a new electoral law and hold early legislative elections as a way to break the current impasse in domestic politics.

Mouallem rejected calls by the UN Security Council for the Lebanese Shiite Muslim Hezbollah militia to be disarmed and replaced by regular troops on the Israeli border.

"Is it in Lebanon's interests to deploy its army on the border, given the current balance of forces," he asked. "A clash could lead to a one-on-one between two regular armies, and would Lebanon be able to make war with Israel?"

At the same time, he criticized UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen for calling on Syria to cooperate fully with Lebanon on establishing their own common border, particularly in the disputed Shebaa Farms area.

"For now, the Shebaa Farms are neither Lebanese nor Syrian, because they are occupied (by Israel). If Roed-Larsen wants to do something good, he should get Israel to withdraw, and then there would be no problem."

Mouallem also welcomed efforts by Lebanon's political leaders to seek friendlier relations with Damascus, soured by three decades of military occupation and tutelage that ended last year.

Syria withdrew its troops under strong local and international pressure after the murder of former premier Rafiq Hariri, a killing blamed by many on Damascus.

Writing a "new electoral law, which would constitute a basis for all change and all reform is inevitable.

"After agreeing to an electoral law, legislatives elections, which would constitute a transparent referendum, could be held to allow new deputies to find a solution to the pending problems."

Lebanon's current parliament, only elected in mid-2005, is dominated by anti-Syrian forces.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria, and its Christian ally former general Michel Aoun, both see early polls as a way to break the political stalemate.

One of the stumbling blocks is the call for the resignation of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, whose term was controversially extended in 2004 under pressure from Damascus.

"We have nothing to do with the presidential question... The Lebanese should agree on that among themselves," the Syrian foreign minister said.


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