First Published: 2006-03-21

Lebanon seeking ways to break political deadlock

Lebanese leaders resume push to break political deadlock on disarmament of Hezbollah, Lahoud’s fate.


Middle East Online

By Salim Yassine - BEIRUT

Smiles but still no agreements

Lebanese political leaders are Wednesday to resume their drive to break a deadlock on the disarmament of the Hezbollah militia and the fate of the country's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud.

The chairman of the conference, parliament speaker Nabih Berri, has said the forum would carry on for as long as it takes to thrash out these issues, "even if this means weeks, or months".

After an eight-day break in the meetings between leaders from across the political and religious spectrum, the question of the presidency, however, will be discussed behind the scenes rather than in open sessions, he said.

Lahoud, who has been under mounting pressure by the anti-Damascus parliamentary majority to resign, repeated on Saturday that he would hold his ground.

"If I quit now, it might be thought that I was a traitor, or that I had violated the constitution," he said.

Also over the weekend, Fatah's chief in Lebanon said his Palestinian faction would round up weapons from refugee camps amid growing calls for militias in the country to be disbanded in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1559.

"We have decided to collect all the weapons we possess, including individual arms, and put them in secure places (inside the camps), in accordance with the wishes of the inter-Lebanese dialogue conference," said Sultan Abul Aynain.

On March 12, the forum struck an accord on normalising ties with former powerbroker Syria that were thrown into turmoil by the February 2005 assassination of Lebanon's ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

"Participants want relations between Lebanon and Syria to be as equals, based on the establishment of diplomatic relations and embassies and demarcating Lebanese-Syrian frontiers," said Berri.

Prime Minister Fuad Siniora has been tasked with holding talks with Syria, centred on the Shebaa Farms sector where the Lebanese, Syrian and Israeli borders meet.

Lebanon wants an official demarcation of its border with Syria.

But it has decided to await the results of an Arab summit being held next week in Khartoum that could advance the healing process between Beirut and Damascus, which a UN probe has implicated in the Hariri murder.

The economic crisis in Lebanon, whose public debt amounts to a whopping 38 billion dollars, is not officially on the conference agenda but it has been making inroads.

The main parties in the parliamentary majority, headed by Saad Hariri, the slain premier's son, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, want the forum to tackle the issue of economic reforms.

Siniora on Monday briefed European Union foreign ministers in Brussels on his programme of privatisations aimed at spurring investments and growth.

EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, after the talks, hailed the dialogue between Lebanese leaders and the proposed reforms as the best way forward.

The dialogue was "a very good base" for progress on the political and economic fronts, she said.


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