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Annan Begins Lebanon Visit
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UN Secretary General Kofi Annan arrived on Monday at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, starting his visit to Lebanon.

His visit comes as Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah said his fighters would not oppose UN forces deployed in southern Lebanon, but warned that the peacekeepers should not seek to disarm Hezbollah.

"We have no problem with UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) as long as its mission is not aimed at disarming Hezbollah," Nasrallah said on Sunday in an interview with Lebanese New TV station.

In a joint press conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Annan urged Hezbollah to deliver captured Israeli soldiers to the Lebanese government through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

"I renewed my call to ask that the two captured Israeli soldiers be freed and transferred under the auspices of ICRC to the Lebanese government," Annan said.

Meanwhile, Annan also urged Israel to lift its blockade on Lebanon as soon as possible. "I will also discuss this question with Israel when I visit it later."

He expressed his satisfaction over all actions taken by the Lebanese government to date: "Israeli troops have withdrawn and the Lebanese army has control of south Lebanon."

As for the deployment of UN forces, Annan said: "I'm very pleased that the UN forces have begun to be deployed now that France has sent troops to south Lebanon."

He also underlined the importance of establishment of a free zone in the border area, urging the parties concerned to respect the Blue Line.

When answering a question from Xinhua, Annan urged the international community not to blame UNIFIL unfairly, saying: "We have lost many hundred people in the past. Our mandate is not to fight or separate anyone but to ensure a durable peace in this area."

Annan voiced his hope that a Lebanon with "long-lasting peace and prosperity" would occur.

Annan also met with Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
Lebanon is the first leg of Annan's Mideast regional tour, which would also take him to Israel, Palestinian territories, Syria or Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

(Xinhua News Agency August 29, 2006)

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