Christian Militia Withdraws from Beirut Port
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Christian militias on Thursday abandoned a strategically and financially important Beirut port they had controlled for nearly three years, sources said.
″We’ve closed all our financial operations at the port and withdrew our fighters. The port now is in the hands of the Beirut port authority,″ said a source at the command of the Lebanese Forces Christian militia.
Customs officials and other government employees have not been reporting to duty at Beirut port since the militia took control in mid-1986.
The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Christian militia will maintain a ″symbolic force near the port to protect″ the southern flank of its war council headquarters.
A source at the command of Gen. Michel Aoun, who heads Christian units of the Lebanese Army, confirmed that the Christian militia has closed its ″illegal clearing and taxation offices at the port.
″There was no real handing over of territory. They withdrew and we later deployed in the port vicinity,″ the source said.
Asked whether the army would control activities at the port, the source said: ″No. It’s a civilian port and not a naval base. Port activities will be carried out by the usual departments in charge of them.″
Aoun, who also heads the Christian cabinet in Lebanon’s dual government, said the withdrawal of the Lebanese Forces from the port and discontinuing illegal tax collections were conditions for not renewing clashes between his forces and the militia.
Aoun’s troops and the Lebanese Forces fought in east Beirut and the Christian heartland Feb. 14, with 82 killed, 200 wounded and millions of dollars in property damage.
In an interview with the daily paper Ad-Diyar, Aoun said the Lebanese Forces have ″turned themselves into a complete state.″
″They conclude international agreements and unload hundreds of millions worth of weapons at Beirut port without the government’s knowledge,″ Aoun said.
Aoun told a news conference Friday the Lebanese Forces were collecting $400,000 daily in illegal taxes.
Aoun’s move against the Christian militia drew positive reaction from his Moslem opponents.
Salim Hoss, a Sunni Moslem who heads the pro-Syrian Moslem cabinet in the dual government, described the Lebanese Forces withdrawal from the 5th Basin as ″a positive step.″
Hoss and Aoun have not met since Aoun was named to head the interim military government by former President Amin Gemayel minutes before his term expired Sept. 22.
Pro-Syrian Moslems rejected Aoun’s appointment, which violated the traditional distribution of political powers that gave the premiership to the Sunnis, the presidency to the Maronites and the house speakership to the Shiite Moslems.
In Kuwait, meanwhile, clerics from Lebanon’s main religious communities ended four days of talks with an Arab mediation panel Thursday after agreeing that political reforms are the key to a settlement for Lebanon’s civil war.
Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheik Sabah Ahmed, who heads the panel, told a news conference that the clerics agreed that a settlement of the 14-year-old conflict should be based on ″justice, equality, preserving Lebanon’s Arab identity and restoring efficiency to its (government) institutions.″
Sabah said ″in the near future, the panel will establish contacts with all other Lebanese sides.″
Christians have dominated power in Lebanon since its independence from France in 1943. Moslems, who make up 55 percent of the population of 4 million, want reforms that will give them an equal share of power.