UN warns Syria against interfering in Lebanon
A U.S.-drafted resolution telling Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon and warning against foreign interference in Beirut's presidential election squeaked through the U.N. Security Council on Thursday.
The council voted 9-0 with six abstentions -- the minimum vote possible -- to adopt the resolution after the United States and co-sponsor France agreed under pressure not to mention Syria by name, although it is the only country with foreign forces in Lebanon.
The resolution aims to head off a move in Lebanon's parliament to amend the constitution and extend the term of Syrian-backed Lebanese President Emile Lahoud for three years after his current six-year term expires in November.
Lebanon's 128-member assembly has set a vote on the constitutional change for Friday and officials said the amendment would easily win the required two-thirds majority.
Syria dominates Lebanon politically and has some 17,000 soldiers in the country after flooding Lebanon with its troops during the 1975-1990 civil war.
Angola, Benin, Britain, Chile, Germany, Romania and Spain joined the United States and France in voting in favor of the resolution while Algeria, Brazil, China, Pakistan, the Philippines and Russia abstained.
'A CRUDE MOCKERY'
"The Lebanese parliament and the Lebanese cabinet should express the will of the Lebanese people through a free and fair presidential electoral process. What the Lebanese people and we have witnessed over the past week in terms of Syrian actions is a crude mockery of this principle," U.S. Ambassador John Danforth told the council.
"France believes that by acting firmly today, the Security Council is showing its confidence in Lebanon's future. This future must be marked by the restoration of its sovereignty and not by the intensification of outside interference," said French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere.
But a senior Lebanese official asked the council to drop the resolution, arguing the U.N. body had never interfered in this manner in the internal affairs of a member-state.
Mohammed Issa, Beirut's secretary-general for foreign affairs, said his government had invited in Syrian troops to help rebuff "radical action emanating from Israel" and Syria did not need to leave when Israel was still on Lebanese soil.
However, the United Nations decided in 2000 that Israel had withdrawn and that its troops in the Shaaba farms area were in Syria, not Lebanon, unless the two countries decided to alter their border, which they have not.
Most abstaining council members said they agreed with Lebanon that the measure interfered in the country's internal affairs and would not contribute to a Middle East peace.
"This cannot be justified as part of the role given to the Security Council," Philippines Ambassador Lauro Baja said.
Syria's U.N. ambassador, Fayssal Mekdad, told reporters Paris and Washington had "failed dramatically" in their mission because they had been obliged to rewrite the resolution to win its adoption.
The resolution would have no impact and "has become "merely an expression" of interference in the internal affairs of a country, Mekdad told reporters after the council vote.