Lebanon & Syria: sovereignty slipping away


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Italy: Syria agrees to EU border troops
By MARIA SANMINIATELLI, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 34 minutes ago

Syria has agreed "in principle" to a European Union presence on its border to 
help stem the flow of weapons into Lebanon, Italy's prime minister said 

Syrian President Bashar Assad said in a TV interview last month that he would 
consider the deployment of international troops along the Lebanon-Syria border a
hostile move toward his country.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said he had spoken with Assad several times 
over the last few days.

"I reminded President Assad that the European Union has significant experience 
in training programs for frontier guards, and that the idea of an EU mission of 
assistance on the border between Syria and Lebanon would be an excellent signal 
of cooperation between Syria and Europe," Prodi said in a statement. "President 
Assad gave me his accord in principle."

Damascus had no immediate comment on Prodi's announcement. Syria's official news
agency reported late Friday that Assad talked by phone with Prodi to discuss the
"latest developments in the region and in Lebanon," but the report did not 
mention deployment of peacekeepers.

Prodi said details of a proposal were being worked out and would be presented at
a meeting of the EU's foreign affairs committee on Thursday in Brussels, 

Syria and Iran are the main backers of the Hezbollah militants based in south 
Lebanon, and Israeli officials repeatedly have said the guerrillas receive arms 
from the two countries.

Israel lifted its sea blockade of Lebanon on Friday, more than three weeks after
a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah militants. U.N. peacekeeping troops 
now face their first test in preventing weapons getting to Hezbollah.

In comments to the ANSA news agency that were confirmed by Prodi's office, the 
premier said the European guards would not be armed and would not be in uniform,
but would have all the "necessary instruments to check on the passage of arms 
toward southern Lebanon."

"We believe that a significant quantity of arms pass through this border ... 
toward southern Lebanon," Prodi said.

The Italian premier also said Assad had told him Syria would beef up security at
the border by sending 500 border guards.

Prodi has discussed the plan with Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign 
policy chief, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Italy's "main European 
partners" had welcomed the proposal "with great interest," the premier said.

The U.N. resolution that set up the cease-fire in Lebanon calls for the eventual
disarmament of Hezbollah's Shiite guerrillas, but the U.N. peacekeeping force 
does not have a mandate to search out weapons and take them.

That job is up to the Lebanese army, Annan says, but Lebanon has not said 
whether it will do so. It appeared the peacekeepers will aim to ensure that 
guerrillas are not seen in public with weapons and that no new arms are moved 

Rome is contributing the largest contingent to the U.N. peacekeeping force in 

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press.
Copyright © 2006 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.

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