Lebanese PM warns Lebanon will not be "battlefield"

( dpa ) - Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Seniora declared late Friday that Lebanon would no longer be a battlefield for anyone to settle accounts, and called for a regional meeting on its governing crisis after the end of an Arab summit it is boycotting.

"It is unacceptable anymore for Syria and Iran to consider Lebanon as their field of authority ... both countries should respect Lebanon's independence and sovereignty," Seniora said in a televised speech addressed to Arab leaders on the eve of the Arab summit in Damascus.

Seniora called on Arab leaders gathering Saturday and Sunday to work on mending the tense Lebanese-Syrian relations, but listed some conditions.

"We want diplomatic relations with Syria based on mutual respect like other Arab countries," Seniora said.

He also called for defining the borders between Lebanon and Syria and for barring border access to anyone who threatens the security of either country.

Seniora reinforced the reasons Lebanon is boycotting the summit.

He pointed out that Lebanon would have had to be represented there by its president, but has had none since November because of political turmoil blamed on Syria.

In addition, Lebanon is boycotting the gathering to protest Syria's ongoing intervention in Lebanese politics through its allies within Lebanon, mainly the opposition headed by the Shiite group Hezbollah.

Lebanon has been without a president since pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud ended his term in November 2007.

The crisis, Lebanon's worst since the 1975-90 civil war, has paralyzed the government and led to bouts of deadly sectarian violence.

The anti-Syrian ruling majority has blamed Syria for blocking a solution to end the Lebanese crisis.

Syria has been a power broker in Lebanon during and since the civil war. It finally ended its 30-year military presence under severe international pressure following the 2005 assassination of premier Rafik Hariri, whose death was widely blamed on Damascus.

Seniora called on Arab leaders to arrange a separate meeting for Arab foreign ministers after the summit to discuss the Lebanese crisis and the relation with Syria.

After Lebanon said it would boycott the Damascus meeting, its closest allies, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, said they would send low- level delegations. Bahrain, which is close to the Saudis, sent a deputy prime minister.

Arab divisions over Lebanon have cast a shadow over the meeting with several key leaders expected to stay away, blaming Syria for blocking an election in Lebanon.

Seniora blamed Syria in his speech for his country's prolonged political crisis.

" Lebanon has had a presidential void for more than four months," Seniora said. "Before and during that period Syria played a leading role to exacerbate the crisis ... interfering in Lebanon's internal affairs and blocking the election of the consensus candidate to the presidency."

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