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Lebanon says Syrian troops deployed on border

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

BEIRUT, Lebanon —  Syria has deployed troops near Lebanon's northern border in an attempt to crack down on smugglers, a senior Lebanese military official said Tuesday.

The official said the deployment has nothing to do with security developments in Lebanon.

Syrian President Basher Assay recently warned that "extremist forces" _ a reference to Sunni militants _ were operating in northern Lebanon and destabilizing the country.

"The Syrian army is carrying out activities to combat smuggling and control the border," the Lebanese official told The Associated Press. He called the deployment an "internal Syrian affair."

The Lebanese official would not disclose the number of troops deployed on the northern border, but he said press reports of 10,000 troops were "exaggerated and inaccurate." He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.

There was no immediate Syrian comment.

Since Syria pulled out it's army from Lebanon in 2005 under local and international pressure after the assassination of former Prime Minister Raffia Harare, anti-Syrian Lebanese groups have accused Syria of sending weapons to its supporters in Lebanon and allowing militants to enter Lebanon illegally to destabilize the country.

The United Nations also has repeatedly called on Syria to tighten its border controls to stop the smuggling of weapons to Lebanon. The U.N. resolution that ended the monthlong war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 banned weapon transfers to the Iranian- and Syrian-backed militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Syrians deny charges of weapons smuggling and argue that Lebanese territory is being used by militants who enter Syria.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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