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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Syria Still has Military Positions Inside Lebanon

Syria, which is under international pressure to demarcate its border with Lebanon, still has military positions inside Lebanese territory one year after it pulled out its troops out of the country, al Mustaqbal newspaper reported Tuesday.

The paper said the Syrian army positions are stationed in Rashaya province in an area 5km deep and 30 km long in the outskirts of the town of Kfarkouk.

It quoted the town residents as saying Syrian troops are preventing farmers and shepherds from exploiting the land which belongs to families from Rashaya.

While Syrian troops and forest rangers are blocking Lebanese shepherds from reaching those areas, they are allowing herds from Syria to graze on the Lebanese-owned plots, the paper said.

It also reported that 10 housing units were recently built in the area in addition to the ones that were erected there over the past 15 years. Those were used to hold meetings between Syrian intelligence officers and Lebanese groups allied with Damascus during Syria's tutelage over the country.

Syria, which dominated Lebanon for 29 years, pulled out its forces in April 2005 after intense international pressure and street protests that followed ex-premier Rafik Hariri's murder two months before. The withdrawal was also in compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, passed in 2004, which calls on all foreign troops to leave the country.

Meanwhile, smuggling activities, which had decreased in the region due to intensified army patrols and difficult winter conditions, have started to flourish again through the dozens of illegal crossings that are difficult to control, al Mustaqbal said.

Last week troops shot and killed a Syrian trafficker near the town of Ayha in Rashaya. The paper said two other smugglers were wounded in the clash and the remaining 15 members of the group fled back to Syria.

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