Syria completes first phase of redeployment

BEIRUT, MARCH 17. Syria's army and intelligence agents today completed the first phase of their pullback to eastern Lebanon and Syria, while a top Lebanese security chief said he and other officials were willing to stand trial to clear allegations of negligence in the assassination of former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.

The Syrian withdrawal comes ahead of Tuesday's summit of Arab leaders in Algeria. Syrian and Lebanon agreed earlier this month that Syrian troops and intelligence agents would re-deploy in the eastern Beqa'a Valley or withdraw to Syria before the end of the month.

``They have finished their redeployment,'' a senior Lebanese army officer told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. He refused to give further details, saying a statement would be released within 48 hours.

Of the 14,000 troops that were in Lebanon, at least 4,000 crossed into Syria in the past week and the rest remain in the Valley. The Syrian President, Bashar Assad, promised to bring the troops back home in the second phase of redeployment, for which no date has been set.

The Lebanese Opposition accused Syria and the Lebanese Government of being behind the assassination and have called on Lebanese security chiefs to resign, alleging negligence. Both Governments have denied the charges.

Jamil Sayyed, head of the powerful General Security Department and a close aide of President Emile Lahoud, today said he and other officials were willing to stand trial to clear their names.

``All the heads of security institutions are ready for trial and accountability,'' he said at a news conference. ``We have no secrets to be embarrassed of.'' — AP

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