UN envoy meets Lebanese spiritual and religious leaders on pullout of foreign

Terje Roed-Larsen, who returned to Beirut last night after his one-day visit to Syria for talks with President Bashar Al-Assad, met this morning with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir – an avid supporter of Security Council resolution 1559.On Thursday night Mr. Roed-Larsen, whose official title is Special Envoy for the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559, met separately with Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani and Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, vice-president of the Higher Shiite Council. The UN envoy briefed them on the objectives of his mission and sought their support in the implementation of the resolution.That text, adopted last September ahead of elections in Lebanon, supported polling free from outside influence and called for the withdrawal of all remaining foreign forces, the disbanding of all militias and the extension of Government control over the entire country.In an initial report, Mr. Annan said that aside from a UN peacekeeping force, the only significant foreign forces in Lebanon were Syrian. He said Syria indicated it had some 14,000 troops still inside Lebanon stationed near the border, and that it had redeployed about 3,000 other forces.The Secretary-General also reported that the Governments of both countries said the timing of further withdrawals would be determined by the security situation in Lebanon and the Middle East region and they could not provide a schedule for such action.Mr. Roed-Larsen left Beirut this afternoon for Paris, where he is scheduled to meet French President Jacques Chirac over the weekend. read more