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Lebanon security chief resigns

Monday, April 25, 2005 (CNN)

Posted: 6:32 AM EDT (1032 GMT)

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) -- Lebanon's powerful security chief, a close ally of Syria, resigned Monday, a day before Syria was to formally end its 29-year military deployment in Lebanon.

Maj. Gen. Jamil Sayyed, who had stepped aside on Friday, announced his resignation in a statement. His earlier move had placed Sayyed "at the disposal" of the prime minister, a formula that had allowed him to step aside without resigning.

But on Monday he said he was resigning to avoid confusion and because of Lebanese policy changes dictated "by the changing political developments."

"I am honored to request that my services be terminated and that the resignation is accepted," he said in his statement.

Sayyed, an army general, was director-general of the Interior Ministry's General Security Department, which handles issuing passports, border controls and censorship of publications.

But Sayyed, who was moved to the ministry when President Emile Lahoud was elected by Parliament in 1998, also became Syria's closest ally in the Lebanese security services.

The mood in Lebanon, where Syria held sway for decades unopposed, quickly changed after former prime minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated February 14.

The Lebanese opposition blamed the murder on the Lebanese government and its Syrian backers, accusations both governments deny.

Since then, massive demonstrations brought down the government and, coupled with international uproar and pressure, forced Syria to begin withdrawing its army from Lebanon in March. The withdrawal is expected to be completed Tuesday.

The Lebanese opposition has demanded the withdrawal of the Syrian army, an international investigation into the assassination of Hariri and the resignation of security chiefs for alleged negligence -- or worse.

A U.N. fact-finding mission in March suggested the security chiefs step down. The U.N. Security Council is sending a team to investigate Hariri's murder.

Sayyed and two security chiefs have since stepped aside, but opposition politicians have criticized the security chiefs' move and called for their outright resignation or firing.

Maj. Gen. Raymond Azar, the director of Lebanese military intelligence who on March 29 took a one month administrative leave in a move to step aside without resigning, left the country Sunday along with his wife and two boys, a security official said.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Azar boarded a plane for Paris.

A military official also speaking on the condition of anonymity said Azar was on a 10-day mission. The official would not divulge the nature of the mission.