Can Lebanese militias bury grudges and cooperate?

Lebanon's new and youngest-ever President, Bashir Gemayel, is a militia boss who is feared, hated, and often at the same time respected for the law and order his iron-fist tactics impose.

The 34-year-old lawyer said after his election this week that the past should be forgotten. ''I suggest that we draw a line between the past and the present, and let us all start afresh, putting our factional and other considerations aside.''

But seven years of violent confessional strife topped off by the Israeli-Palestinian war are not likely to be quickly forgotten or forgiven. As leader of the right-wing Christian Militia, Mr. Gemayel gets a big slice of the blame.

Both Muslims and Christians have grudges against Mr. Gemayel and his militia.

Former President Suleiman Franjieh has yet to bury his son, Tony, who was gunned down by Mr. Gemayel's men in 1978. Mr. Franjieh is waiting for revenge.

Mr. Gemayel took command of the militia during the civil war attack on the Tel Zaatar Palestinian refugee camp. An estimated 10,000 Palestinians were killed there.

He also took part in what is commonly referred to as the ''Qarantina massacre'' when some 1,200 people in the sprawling slum district were slaughtered.

His men have been armed and trained by Israel. Muslim distrust of him was deep before the June 6 invasion and went deeper afterward - especially when the Israelis used Mr. Gemayel's east Beirut to attack Muslim west Beirut.

Sources in the Phalange political party, which dominates Gemayel's militia, admit the new President was warned of the impending invasion but say he didn't have a clue it would arrive on his doorstep.

Mr. Gemayel has denied officially any collusion with Israel, but referred to the invasion as ''a surgical operation.''

His militia has openly cooperated with the Israelis.

The largest Muslim militia remaining in west Beirut, the Morabitoun, called Mr. Gemayel ''a high commissioner appointed by the Israeli invaders.''

Mr. Gemayel's political heritage is from his father, Pierre, a member of the parliament that elected Mr. Gemayel.

The senior Gemayel founded the Phalange Party after a visit to Nazi Germany. Impressed by the order and discipline of the Nazis, he styled his party along similiar lines - even adopting the Nazi salute.

Bashir Gemayel joined the party's militia when he was 11.

The initial Muslim reaction to his election began surfacing just hours after the vote. Little more than 24 hours after his victory, leftist gunmen in west Beirut had blown up the homes of 10 parliamentarians, including the speaker, Kalem Al Assad, because they had attended the election.

The Muslims knew Mr. Gemayel had enough votes to win the second ballot, so they had tried to prevent the session from having a quorum.

After conferring several hours in the home of the most prominent Muslim, former Prime Minister Saeb Salam, the Muslim leadership issued a long statement. Boiled down, the statement said they accepted his presidency but certainly did not like it.

''Without the PLO, they are outgunned and they know it so they must make the best of it,'' said a Lebanese political source in close touch with the government.

There was literally dancing in the streets of Christian east Beirut after the election.

West Beirut was silent publicly. However, many private citizens - including Muslims - were relieved.

''At least we can begin to live again. I don't care who is president as long as we can live again,'' said a secretary whose office was damaged by Israeli attacks on west Beirut.

''People want to be able to go out to eat at night without dodging sniper fire or being caught in gun battles,'' said an editor of a leading west Beirut newspaper. However, the editor refused to be named because he fears Mr. Gemayel will impose press censorship.

Many west Beirutis want the law and order Christian east Beirut has enjoyed under Mr. Gemayel while west Beirut drowned in unchecked anarchy and violence.

But many accuse Mr. Gemayel of not only setting up a state-within-a-state in east Beirut, but also of setting up a virtual police state.

PLO leaders have expressed grave fears that Palestinian civilians left in Lebanon would be slaughtered by a Gemayel regime. The PLO has received written assurances from both the Lebanese government and the United States for the safety of the civilians.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.