France, Lebanon Try to Ease Quarrel; Dismantling of Green Line Continues
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Army bulldozers removed more mines along the capital’s dividing Green Line Tuesday, and France sought to ease an escalating quarrel with Lebanon over the fate of Gen. Michel Aoun.
President Elias Hrawi pledged to reunify the nation and end its 15-year civil war. He said he would work from the bombed-out presidential palace, where Aoun had his headquarters, even if he has to put up a tent.
Aoun spent a fourth day in the French Embassy in east Beirut, where he fled Saturday after being defeated in an eight-hour Syrian-led blitz. The assault, which left 160 people dead, ended the Christian general’s 11-month mutiny.
France promptly granted Aoun asylum. But the Lebanese government refuses to allow him to leave the country and wants to try him on a variety of charges, including the theft of state funds.
On Tuesday, the government set up a military checkpoint near the embassy, but said the measure was designed to prevent anti-Aoun demonstrators from storming the building.
″France and Lebanon do not intend to permit a crisis to develop between them,″ French Ambassador Rene Ala told reporters after meeting Hrawi in Moslem west Beirut. It was his third meeting with the Lebanese president in 24 hours.
Reporters on the scene said soldiers at the checkpoint made no move to stop people from getting into or out of the embassy or block traffic in the vicinity.
Aoun began his mutiny in November 1989 after rejecting an Arab League- brokered peace plan to end Lebanon’s civil war, which has killed an estimated 150,000 people. He called Hrawi, like himself a Maronite Catholic, a ″Syrian puppet″ and refused to recognize his government.
The peace plan provides for the traditionally dominant Christians to share power with the Moslem majority. Aoun rejected the plan because there was no timetable for the withdrawal of Syrian troops.
Bulldozers, meanwhile, continued to remove mines along the Green Line Tuesday, a day after authorities opened a key intersection to traffic.
Several Lebanese compared the dismantling of the Green Line - a series of earth mounds that have split Beirut into Moslem and Christian sections since 1975 - to the removal of the Berlin Wall.
″There’s a ray of hope now,″ Moslem housewife Jinan Sukkar said.
″Berlin has been united and has gotten rid of the wall that had divided it for many years,″ Agriculture Minister Mohsen Dalloul was quoted as saying. ″Now it’s Beirut being united with the Green Line ceasing to exist.″
Hrawi told a delegation representing the Christian population in Aoun’s former enclave that ″very soon I’ll be in the palace. I won’t wait for reconstruction works. I’ll erect a tent there and receive people.″
He said that ″hostile acts″ by some pro-Syrian leftist militias that infiltrated into Aoun’s former territory after his forces collapsed ″would be eliminated soon.″
″I’ll re-unify the nation,″ Hrawi pledged.
In parts of Christian east Beirut and in Aoun’s former stronghold, people spoke of alleged looting by the Syrians and their militia allies. Motorists were taking detours to avoid Syrian checkpoints in streets where posters of Aoun had been replaced by those of President Hafez Assad of Syria.
As Hrawi spoke Tuesday, Syrian-backed Christian militiamen led by Elie Hobeika were seen patrolling the streets of suburban Hadath, southeast of Beirut, checking identity cards and searching houses along with Syrian soldiers for Aoun loyalists.
″Last night Hobeika’s men searched the house for my two brothers, who were soldiers serving under Aoun,″ said a native of Hadath, who identified herself only as Georgette.
″I told them that I haven’t seen them since the attack on Saturday. They didn’t beat me or anything, they only searched the house and left,″ Georgette said.
″I wonder why didn’t Aoun surrender to Hrawi’s army. It would have been much better than having the Syrians and their allies humiliating us,″ she said.
Syria, which has 40,000 troops in Lebanon under a 1976 peacekeeping mandate, considers the country its strategic backyard. The fall of Aoun has strengthened its hold on the country.
Also Tuesday, Parliament re-elected Hussein Husseini, a Shiite Moslem, as speaker for a four-year term.