PLO and Lebanon to Discuss Arms Issue

AFTER initially rejecting calls by the Lebanese government to lay down their arms, Palestinians will soon begin talks with Lebanese representatives on normalizing the Palestinian armed and political presence in the country, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) representative Zeid Wehbe said Saturday. "A Lebanese-Palestinian dialogue will start soon either in Tunisia or Lebanon in order to preserve Lebanon's unity and sovereignty," Mr. Wehbe told reporters in the port city of Sidon.

Wehbe said the Palestinians will not obstruct efforts by the Lebanese government to expand its authority over all Lebanese territory.

Asked about the organization's readiness to hand over its weapons to the Lebanese Army, the PLO official said, "It is too early to comment on such issues."

Last week, Wehbe said the PLO would not lay down its arms as demanded by the pro-Syrian government of President Elias Hrawi as long as Israel occupied Palestinian land.

On March 28, the government issued a decree ordering all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias to disband and turn in their heavy and medium weapons before April 30 and threatened to back up the measure with military force.

The government's decision to disband and disarm all militias was in line with a national reconciliation accord endorsed by Lebanese lawmakers in October 1989 in Taif, Saudi Arabia.

Wehbe said the expected dialogue will discuss ways to normalize relations, including the establishment of a Palestinian Embassy in Beirut, and "guarantee the security, living, and social rights of the Palestinian people."

The UN relief agency, which cares for Palestinian refugees, puts the total number of Palestinians in Lebanon at 302,094, although officials in Beirut say the number is larger than that.

There also are more than 10,000 armed guerrillas entrenched in six main refugee camps scattered across Lebanese territory.

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