European ministers in Lebanon to tackle Syria spill over
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Swedish, Bulgarian and Polish foreign ministers met politicians in Beirut on Friday in an EU-backed attempt to urge Lebanese political blocks to cooperate in preventing violence in neighbouring Syria spilling over the border.
"There is a clear worry (of a spill over). The worry is probably greater than we want to say it is," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told Reuters during the flight to Lebanon on Thursday evening.
Lebanon has seen clashes between supporters and opponents of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the border region has been used by rebels to smuggle arms into Syria and take refuge from Syrian troops.
Lebanon's politicians are at odds over Syria, with Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah supporting Assad, who is a longtime ally, and others supporting the revolt.
Most agree that Syria's crisis has the potential to destabilize Lebanon, which suffered 15 years of civil war.
"Lebanon is involved in a sensitive balancing act ...between the different forces in Lebanese society which are looking in different directions on the Syrian conflict," Bildt said ahead of meetings with Lebanon's President Michel Sleiman and Speaker Nabih Berri.
"The message to Lebanon is that it is very important that they develop their national dialogue between the different forces, and we support it from our side," he added.
On June 11, rival Lebanese politicians met for the first National Dialogue meeting in over 18 months and agreed to give the army financial resources to tackle any violence spurred on by Syria-related tensions.
Fearing a spill over, many politicians in Lebanon have been careful not to reignite tensions but there are worries that protracted war in Syria could change that.
Noting that Lebanon is on the "frontline of the Syrian conflict", Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said; "The Middle East is even more in flux than usual, and while we have Syria sliding into civil war, the last thing we need is Lebanon to revert to the bad old ways."
The three ministers made the decision to travel to Lebanon in coordination with European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
(Writing by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Myra MacDonald)
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