03/14/2006, 00.00
LEBANON
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Optimism voiced about resumed inter-Lebanese talks

by Youssef Hourani

It is hoped that a solution will be found about the ownership of the Chebaa Farms; also on the agenda are diplomatic links with Syria while controversies continue about the disarmament of Hezbollah and the self-candidature of Aoun for the presidency of the Republic. Patriarch Sfeir is calling for a just electoral law.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Declarations of optimism have accompanied the resumption of inter-Lebanese dialogue. On international level, talks are now focused on diplomatic links with Syria and the ownership – whether Syrian or Lebanese – of Chebaa Farms, occupied by Israel. Meanwhile, internal matters are topped by the new electoral law, which the Maronite Patriarch, Nasrallah Sfeir, is spending considerable energy on, and military disarmament, requested by Resolution 1559 of the United Nations. The problem of choosing a new President of the Republic remains in the background, with the self-candidature of General Michel Aoun, opposed by the anti-Syrian coalition that won the political election. All this comes two days before the presentation of a new report by the UN Commission inquiring into the murder of the former premier Rafic Hariri.

The Speaker of the House of Lebanese MPs, Nabih Berri, expressed optimism at the resumption of the second phase of inter-Lebanese dialogue yesterday, Monday 13 March, and promised "constructive things" today. He is chairing the talks which gather all the parliamentary group leaders.

Satisfaction was heartily expressed yesterday by all participants in the dialogue, after an enforced four-day break due to statements made in the United States by the Druze leader, Walid Joumblatt, after his meetings with American leaders. His words revealed deterioration in his ties with Hezbollah, in that he denied the Party of God the credit for the liberation of South Lebanon, while upholding the necessity of applying UN Resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of militias and the return of Palestinian refugees in their camps. These statements drew controversial reactions from the Secretary-General of the Party of God, cheikh Hassan Nassrallah, who threatened to walk out of the inter-Lebanese dialogue meetings "unless Joumblatt withdrew his defamations against the resistance".

Yesterday, participants to the talks discussed the Chebaa Farms at length, considered by the Party of God and by General Michel Aoun to be Lebanese territory occupied by Israel, to be liberated. This is denied by Joumblatt and his allies, who insist the Farms belong to Syria. The matter of ties between Lebanon and Syria was also discussed, that they should take the form of full-blown diplomatic relations, as with any two neighbouring countries.

The MP Saad Hariri indicated the possibility of reaching agreement today on the Farms and other important topics.

After yesterday's meeting, General Michel Aoun expressed his desire to reach inter-Lebanese agreement despite the attitude of some participants to the dialogue, and he expressed his backing for the view held by a large number of Lebanese that the Chebaa Farms belong to Lebanon. The MP, Nabil Ncoula El Hachem, who is a member of General Aoun's parliamentary group, yesterday told AsiaNews, after the meeting, that he was pessimistic, because of the "controversial campaign launched by the Future television, run by Saad El Hariri, which continues to attack the stands of General Aoun, refusing him as President of the Republic." El Hachem added: "We cannot understand the motives of those who want to make a gift of the Chebaa Farms to Syria in spite of history and geography maps which show their Lebanese identity."

Meanwhile, the Maronite Patriarch, Nasrallah Sfeir, once again expressed "the desire to attain a more representative and more just electoral law". He was speaking at the end of the visit to Bkerke, yesterday afternoon, of the chairman of the Commission charged with drafting the new electoral law. The former Foreign Affairs Minister, Fouad Boutros, is seeking to find a solution to the crisis created by the resignation of two representatives of the Maronite Church, who reject the law plan presented by the Commission, considered "harmful and worse than the 2000 law, of the defunct Syrian Minister for Internal Affairs, Ghazi Kanan", who killed himself some months ago. The former minister Boutros promised Patriarch Sfeir that the plan would be revised and insisted on the importance of collaboration among all elements in the Lebanese social fabric to draw up a modern and more representative electoral law. The chairman of the Commission expressed hope that the two Maronite experts would withdraw their resignation.

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