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France Reassures Lebanon on Policy

February 28, 2000

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ France today sought to downplay controversial remarks made last week by its prime minister, reassuring Lebanon that its policy toward its former colony has not changed.

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin’s recent criticism of Lebanese guerrillas fighting Israeli occupation forces in southern Lebanon had unsettled some in Lebanon who see the guerrillas as heroes.

``We are friends of Lebanon. We still uphold our attitudes we have announced in the past years,″ Gerard Larche, deputy speaker of the French Senate, said after meeting today with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Prime Minister Salim Hoss.

``I conveyed a message from (French) President Jacques Chirac, whom I met Saturday evening, affirming that France’s firm policy toward Lebanon has not changed,″ Larche said.

Hoss said France should be careful not to equate the victim with the oppressor.

``Otherwise, such a neutrality would then be an encouragement for injustice, aggression and occupation,″ Hoss said.

Jospin suffered a slight head wound Saturday after students pelted him with stones at Bir Zeit University for referring to attacks on Israeli troops in southern Lebanon by Hezbollah guerrillas as ``terrorist″ activity.

France, Lebanon’s former colonial ruler, has long backed this country’s efforts to get Israeli forces to withdraw from an occupied border zone in southern Lebanon. It has also supported a 1978 U.N. resolution that calls for unconditional Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon.

Protests against Jospin continued in Lebanon today. About 5,000 people demonstrated in Baalbek in eastern Lebanon, denouncing Jospin as well as the United States and Israel.

Meanwhile, in France, Jospin’s Socialist Party said it ``does not regret″ his remarks and portrayed the incident as a step toward truth-telling in international affairs.

``The Socialist Party does not regret what was said,″ First Secretary Francois Hollande said today on French radio. ``This movement (Hezbollah) needed to be characterized for what it is: a movement unfavorable to the peace process.″

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