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LEBANON - June 18 - Critics Unconvinced By Syrian Move.

Gen. Michel Aoun (Paris-based ex-Army commander who led an unsuccessful military uprising against the Syrian presence in 1989-90) denounces "the very limited (Syrian military) withdrawal aimed at quelling the wrath of a majority of Lebanese demanding a Syrian pull-out". The Syrian redeployment process was stopped on June 16. During his Sunday sermon on June 17, Maronite Patriarch Sfeir suggested that prayers on the recent canonisation of Rifka, a Lebanese man, had "worked on the officials, inspiring them to carry out the redeployment. We hope that top officials in both Lebanon and Syria will follow up on this step, reaching a point guaranteeing both countries' interests and establishing friendly relations that allow dignity to each".

(The Syrian troop presence dates to 1976, the first year of Lebanon's civil war. The 1991 Treaty of Brotherhood between the two states noted the "intertwining of the two countries' security" and established bodies for co-ordination in military, economic and political spheres. The Syrian presence in Beirut was gradually reduced in the late 1990s, but Damascus has maintained about 35,000 troops in Lebanon - concentrated in Muslim areas and Palestinian camps in the centre and north of the country. The redeployment over the past days has been from Beirut and mainly Christian areas in Mount Lebanon. Critics of the Syrian presence argue that the troop redeployment will not change Syria's role as the power-broker in Lebanese politics. As Syrian troops left their positions in Beirut and surrounding areas over the past days they broke well established practice and encouraged photographs. Al Assad broke his silence on the redeployment, strengthening the impression that it was intended as a concession to critics of Syria's military presence, who have become more vocal in recent months. The Beirut LBCI television station quoted him as saying: "There is a civil society in Lebanon with particular characteristics. Syria has to organise its relations with Lebanon in this light". But the critics remained circumspect).
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Title Annotation:military cutback
Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:Jun 23, 2001
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