US House wants pro-Syrian officials out of Lebanon

May 24 , 2005

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling for free elections in Lebanon and the departure of Syrian intelligence agents, as Damascus’ soldiers have already left.

“The elections scheduled to begin on May 29 mark a very important moment, but it is only the beginning of a journey toward full sovereignty and free democratic governance,” Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said.

The vote came on the heels of an announcement by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that a UN mission to Lebanon had verified the full withdrawal of Syrian troops.

The withdrawal complies with UN Security Council Resolution 1559, adopted in September, which demands the disarmament and dismantlement of all militias, as well as the Lebanese government’s full exercise of sovereignty over the entire national territory.

Ros-Lehtinen said during a debate in the House that, according to the UN resolution, Syria’s withdrawal “must include the removal of pro-Syrian security officers such as the military intelligence chief, the police chief, the directors of general security and state security.”

“We must safeguard against manipulation of the election registration process to allow Syria to keep its tentacles in Lebanese politics,” she said.

“To all the people of Lebanon I’d like to say that you are an inspiration to us all.”

Damascus said it completed the withdrawal on April 26, but Annan had been waiting for the UN team to verify the pullout.

Syria’s decision came after the February 14 shock murder of popular former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, blamed by many on the then Lebanese regime and its political masters in Damascus.

Hariri’s assassination, which sparked widespread protests that brought down the government in Lebanon in late February, also prompted the
United Nations to launch an international commission to probe the killing.

Syria first deployed troops in Lebanon as a buffer force during the early stages of the 1975-1990 civil war, turning into the dominant factor on the Lebanese political and military scenes.