UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Secretary-General Kofi Annan is sending a U.N. team back to Lebanon to check reports that Syrian intelligence officials may still be operating in the country, a U.N. official said Friday.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Annan told members of the Security Council “that he intends to send a verification team back to Lebanon, but at this point no date has been set.”

Annan said Thursday that he was considering returning the verification team because he had received reports that Syrian intelligence “elements” may be in Lebanon.

The United States has been pressing for the team’s return, and President Bush said Friday he was disturbed by reports that Syrian intelligence was operating in Lebanon in violation of a Security Council resolution.

Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad called the U.S. accusations “a smear campaign” and insisted all Syrian intelligence operatives had been withdrawn from Lebanon.

Mekdad said the anti-Syria campaign reflects U.S. displeasure at the results of recent elections in Lebanon and is an attempt “to deepen differences between different Lebanese forces, and to create problems for a constructive relationship between Syria and Lebanon.”

In comments clearly aimed at the Bush administration, Mekdad told The Associated Press in an interview that “certain circles” want “to kill” the verification team’s recent report on Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon.

Mekdad said the report “confirmed that Syria has fully withdrawn its troops, intelligence and assets.” Syrian troops entered Lebanon in 1976 after the start of that country’s civil war.

However, the report said the team could not “conclude with certainty that all the intelligence apparatus has been withdrawn” because “intelligence activities are by nature often clandestine.”

“I think what the report said on the nature of these operations is correct,” Mekdad said. “We want the team to ensure us if there are no other intelligence services in Lebanon. But what we are sure of in Syria is that we have withdrawn everybody.”


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