Lebanese hold second day of talks in France

15th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

LA CELLE SAINT CLOUD, France, July 15, 2007 (AFP) - Politicians from Lebanon's divided factions were holding a second day of talks in France on Sunday to try to ease eight months of deadlock that has paralysed the nation.

LA CELLE SAINT CLOUD, France, July 15, 2007 (AFP) - Politicians from Lebanon's divided factions were holding a second day of talks in France on Sunday to try to ease eight months of deadlock that has paralysed the nation.

The talks in the state-owned chateau of La Celle Saint Cloud west of Paris brought together representatives of 14 factions including members of the pro-western government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said the participants had been asked to shun all external contact during the talks to pre-empt "interference."

The Syrian-backed opposition Hezbollah, which fought a war against Israel last year and has been branded a terrorist organisation by the United States, was taking part in the meeting.

France hopes to encourage Lebanese leaders to renew a dialogue that was shattered during the conflict with Israel last year and the resignation in November of opposition ministers.

The meeting will focus on the theme of "strengthening the Lebanese state," eight months after six pro-Syrian ministers quit the cabinet, triggering the worst crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Fears are running high that the situation could worsen ahead of the election by parliament in late September of a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud.

The talks in France took place as Islamist fighters near a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon attacked Lebanese troops that have been battling to crush them for eight weeks.

The Lebanon talks were scheduled to end with a news conference at 1600 GMT.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy caused a stir ahead of the talks when he told family members of three kidnapped Israeli soldiers earlier this month that his "goal was that Hezbollah renounces the use of terrorism and becomes once again a political party like the others and part of parliamentary democracy," according to spokesman David Martinon.

But he later clarified his statement, saying that France was not considering designating Hezbollah a terrorist group and that Hezbollah was an important political player in Lebanon.

French Defence Minister Herve Morin is due to meet Siniora in Beirut on Sunday and his Lebanese counterpart Elias Murr. Some 1,650 French troops are serving in the UN force in south Lebanon.

France has taken a leading role in trying to restore stability to Lebanon, a former French mandate, with Foreign Minister Kouchner travelling to Beirut in May for his first foreign trip after taking office.

Syria has meanwhile urged France to play "honest broker" and avoid taking sides at the meeting.

The government newspaper Tishrin has accused France of aligning itself with the United States which supports Prime Minister Siniora's government against the opposition led by the Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran.

"We hope that the France of (new president) Nicolas Sarkozy will play the role of a neutral and honest partner loving peace and justice," said the paper, adding it hoped also that Paris would renounce "the personal policy followed by former president Jacques Chirac."


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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