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| 16 October, 2017

Lebanon president: Syrian refugees should return to safer areas

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun attends the 28th Ordinary Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, Jordan March 29, 2017.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun attends the 28th Ordinary Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, Jordan March 29, 2017.

REUTERS/Mohammad Hamed

Aoun said he wanted the safe return of refugees and was not asking those who have political problems with the Syrian government to go back.



BEIRUT- Lebanon's president said on Monday his country could not cope with the number of Syrian refugees in its territory, and called for world powers to help them return to calmer areas in their war-torn homeland.

Michel Aoun told international envoys he wanted to work out ways to help refugees return safely to the neighbouring state and had no plan to force people back to places where they could face persecution.

"My country cannot handle it anymore," Aoun told the representatives of the European Union, the Arab League and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council at a meeting in Beirut, according to his media office.

Aoun told the envoys there were areas of Syria not currently at war and areas where calm has returned, a media office spokesman said.

Aoun said it was in the international community's interest to solve the refugee problem so that existing political, economic and social problems in Lebanon did not get out of hand.

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More than six years into the Syrian war, 1.5 million Syrians account for one quarter of Lebanon's population.

Refugees' long-term presence is a particularly sensitive issue for Lebanon, amid fears the addition of so many predominantly Sunni Muslim Syrians will upset the delicate sectarian balance with Christians, Shi'ite Muslims and other groups.

(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Heavens) ((lisa.barrington@thomsonreuters.com; +961)(0)(1954456;))