Lebanon's Peace Plan Faces Early Rejections
BEIRUT — CHRISTIAN leader Gen. Michel Aoun has rejected a peace plan approved by Lebanon's Parliament on the grounds that it did not provide a specific timetable for a Syrian troop withdrawal. The accord, approved Sunday by a special parliamentary session held in Saudi Arabia, suffered another jolt when the two main militias of Lebanon's 1.2 million-strong Shiite Muslim sect also rejected the Arab-brokered plan.
While Aoun says he accepts granting Muslims more power, he has repeatedly demanded withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. In March, he sparked the latest outbreak in the country's 14-year-old civil war by blockading illegal militia-run ports.
These rejections threaten to wreck the accord, approved by 59 of the 62 Christian and Muslim deputies after 22 days of deliberations in the Saudi summer resort. The deputies made the action contingent on approval by General Aoun and his rival, Muslim leader Selim Hoss.
Aoun said the Lebanese people should vote on the accord and offered to step down if they support the parliamentary plan.
Before Aoun's rejection of the plan, George Saadeh, head of the Christian Phalange Party, said in Taif: ``We've reached final and comprehensive agreement.''
The general heads a Christian Cabinet that is vying for legitimacy with a predominantly Muslim Cabinet headed by Syrian-backed Hoss.
Under the draft plan, Damascus would withdraw its troops from a .6-mile radius around the Parliament in Beirut before deputies meet to ratify political changes and elect a new president. The plan calls for the Syrians to be replaced inside this ``security zone'' by Lebanese police backed by Algerian and Moroccan observers.
Instead of setting a fixed deadline for Syrian withdrawal, the issue was to be handled by a Syrian-Lebanese military committee after political reforms are ratified, a president is elected, and a unified government formed.
Muslims argued that the Syrian presence was their only guarantee that reforms would occur.
The reforms would increase the number of parliamentary seats to 108 from 99, equally divided between Muslims and Christians. In 1972, the last time parliamentary elections were held, 54 Christians and 45 Muslims were seated.
When Lebanon received independence in 1943, the majority Christians were given a 6-to-5 advantage over Muslims in all government posts. Muslims now make up more than 50 percent of the nation's population.