EU Leaders Call for Quick Syrian Withdrawal

The European Union's 25 leaders called on Syria (search) Wednesday to ensure a complete retreat of its military and other security forces from neighboring Lebanon (search) based on a detailed timetable.

The leaders, meeting for a summit in Brussels, called on Syrian President Bashar Assad (search) "to quickly implement commitments ... to remove all Syrian troops and security services from Lebanon."

In a summit statement, they added the retreat should be carried out "based on a detailed timetable."

The leaders reiterated their support for a "sovereign, independent and democratic Lebanon" as spelled out in recent United Nations resolutions on the issue.

They also called for upcoming Lebanese parliamentary elections to be carried out "freely, openly and fairly according to the set date." The EU has said it would send election monitors to observe those elections, ensuring they were carried out correctly.

On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan secured a promise from Assad at an Arab leaders summit in Algeria that Syria would set a timetable for a full withdrawal by early April.

Under mounting international pressure, Syria has pulled back its 14,000 troops and intelligence agents into eastern Lebanon toward the border — and brought some of them home to Syria. It has promised to work out their complete removal with the pro-Syrian government in Beirut.

Syria has had troops in Lebanon since 1976, when they were sent as peacekeepers during that country's 1975-1990 civil war.

When the war ended, the troops remained and Syria has dominated Lebanon's politics ever since.