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Chirac tells Sfeir France committed to 1559

Patriarch will meet Michel Aoun Saturday

Daily Star/Saturday, January 29, 2005/Linda Dahdah

Posted on 01/28/05    10:00 pm



BEIRUT: French President Jacques Chirac, who received on Friday Maronite Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, reiterated France's attachment to the full implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1559.

"Chirac reiterated France's attachment to the full implementation of this resolution ... Therefore the upcoming Lebanese parliamentary elections are a crucial step that will be closely watched by the international community," said Jerome Bonnafont, the Elysee's spokesman.

The private meeting between Chirac and Sfeir, who also met with Pope John-Paul II earlier this week, was followed by a luncheon and took place at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

The reunion mainly focused on "the relationship between France and Lebanon, the Lebanese internal situation, the position of Christians in the Middle East and the means to respond to the demands of the International community expressed by the 1559 Resolution," said Bonnafont.

Adopted on Sept. 2 on a French and American initiative, the UN Resolution calls for the withdrawal of the Syrian troops from Lebanon as well as the disarmament of the militias.

Sfeir, considered as the leader of the Christian opposition and unofficial patron of the Christian Opposition Qornet Shehwan Gathering, also stressed his support to the UN Resolution.

"We are not here to ask for guarantees concerning the implementation of the UN Resolution ... All the stances we are adopting aim at securing a free and sovereign Lebanon and the UN resolution calls for the independence of Lebanon," said Sfeir after the meeting which he said was "excellent."

He also said that the implementation would be difficult.

Citing Chirac, Bonnafont referred to the Maronite Patriarch as "one of the most important personalities of the country," saying Sfeir's moral authority went beyond divisions and symbolized the unity and the Lebanese people's will to live together, as well as Lebanon's attachment to public freedom and democratic values.

"In times when Lebanon is facing major challenges, France, which is attached to its independence, sovereignty and democratic traditions, is confident in the ability of the Lebanese to take up (the challenges) and live together in peace and harmony," the French spokesman said.

In his fifth visit to Paris, Sfeir said France had always been a friend to Lebanon and is still one.

Asked about a visit to Syria, Sfeir said he would go only when the relationship between both countries is normalized.

He also commented on the new electoral law, saying that there should be one and definite law issued.

On Saturday Sfeir will meet with former army commander Michel Aoun. Aoun has been a lifelong opponent of Syria's tutelage of Lebanon and has been in exile in Paris since 1990.

Earlier this week, Aoun promised to announce a surprise. Many expect the announcement to be made during his meeting with Sfeir.


Sfeir backs 1559 and calls for impartial observers to monitor elections

Daily Star/Friday, January 28, 2005/Linda Dahdah

Posted on 02/07/05    10:00 am


Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir stressed his support for UN Security Council Resolution 1559, and reiterated his call for impartial observers to monitor May's parliamentary elections.

Speaking from Paris on Thursday in an interview with the Lebanese Broadcast Corporation International where he has been on an official visit for a week, Sfeir said he supported the implementation of Resolution 1559.

Sfeir - who is the unofficial patron of the Christian opposition Qornet Shehwan Gathering - also said he wished "no competition to exist within the opposition as it would weaken it."

"We wish the situation to go back to normal and for the (Lebanese) people not to feel marginalized in their own country; and that their country is actually not theirs," Sfeir said.

He added that "normally there is a neutral government consisting of lawyers, judges or politicians who are not candidates and who fairly supervise the electoral process. They then form a new government."

"Only this time, we don't think that the government will change, this is why we need observers," he said.

Sfeir, who is expected to visit French President Jacques Chirac on Friday, stressed the importance of having observers as "at least 20 of the government's members are candidates and they will do whatever they can to win the elections."

Comparing the Lebanese parliamentary elections to the latest Palestinian elections, which he claimed "calmly" took place on Jan. 9, under the supervision of more than 500 observers, Sfeir said that there was no reason why there should not be any supervision.

"The monitors do not have to be foreign; they could be Lebanese as well," he said.

Commenting on the case of jailed former leader of the disbanded Lebanese Forces, Sfeir said that Samir Geagea was not the only one who participated in the Lebanese civil war and that all men should be treated as equals.

As to exiled, former army General Michel Aoun - whom the prelate is expected to meet Saturday - Sfeir said that like any other Lebanese he had the right to return to his country.

Asked if he would discuss these issues with Chirac, Sfeir said that these were strictly domestic questions and they would be solved in Lebanon.