Lebanon Militia Leaders Sign Peace Accord

publisher: Los Angelo's Times

AUTHOR: Charles P. Wallace

Publishing date: 1985-12-29


The leaders of Lebanon’s three most powerful militia groups signed a Syrian-brokered peace agreement here Saturday aimed at ending a decade of civil strife.

The accord, which provides for both military measures and sweeping political reforms to end the anarchy in Lebanon, was signed by the militia chieftains at an afternoon ceremony in the three-story stucco offices of Syrian First Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam, who also signed the agreement.

Unlike past Lebanese peace agreements, which have all ended in tatters not long after being negotiated, Saturday’s accord brought together the leaders of the principal Lebanese armed factions, who have traditionally wielded the most power in Lebanon.

The pact was signed by Nabih Berri, who leads the Shia Muslim militia known as Amal; Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, a predominantly Druze organization with its own militia, and Elie Hobeika, head of the principal Christian militia, the Lebanese Forces.

An Hourlong Ceremony

Each man met separately with Khaddam, who is Syrian President Hafez Assad’s chief trouble-shooter in Lebanese affairs, then all met together in an hourlong signing ceremony attended by several Lebanese political figures.

Not present at the ceremony, however, were such members of the “Christian Old Guard” as former Presidents Camille Chamoun and Suleiman Franjieh, who have opposed the agreement because of the extent to which the Christians will be obliged to surrender power. President Amin Gemayel, a Maronite Catholic and another opponent of the accord, likewise did not attend.

The agreement also faces significant opposition at home from a number of key groups, ranging from the militant Hezbollah (Party of God), a pro-Iranian Shia Muslim militia, to Sunni Muslim leaders, who feel that the agreement spells the end of traditional Sunni domination in political matters relating to Lebanon’s Muslims.

The signing ceremony was believed to be the first time all three militia leaders had met in the same room together. The tension of the moment was reflected in the uneasiness of the scores of gunmen who waited outside in fleets of Mercedes-Benz limousines and Range Rover station wagons, the totems of real power in Lebanon.

After the signing, the three warlords appeared more exhausted than jubilant.

“The most important thing is to have good faith and try to apply what we have decided,” said Berri, a lawyer who is also Lebanon’s minister of justice.

When asked if he was optimistic about the new accord, Druze leader Jumblatt replied that he has always been a “realist.”

“It’s a question of trust and a question of technicalities on the ground . . . how to implement the agreement,” said Jumblatt, who shed his trademark leather jacket for the occasion in favor of a conservative suit and tie.

Hobeika of the Lebanese Forces militia said only that he felt “fine” and that he hoped “the agreement will be implemented.”

Lunch at Hotel

After a ceremonial lunch together at a Damascus hotel, the militia leaders returned to Khaddam’s office to begin a series of discussions on how the peace agreement will be implemented. The discussions are expected to last two or three days.

The text of the agreement, reportedly covering 23 pages, was not made public after the signing, but several key details have been leaked to newspapers in Lebanon.

In the military field, Hobeika, Berri and Jumblatt are expected to discuss the imposition of a cease-fire, to take effect in the next few days.

Under the peace accord, the Lebanese army, which is now fragmented along religious lines and is a virtual mirror of the militia groups, will be ordered into the barracks for “rehabilitation.” Security for Lebanon will be handed over to the country’s so-called Internal Security Forces, gray-uniformed national policemen who carry light arms such as M-16 rifles.

Expanded Security Force

The Security Forces will be greatly expanded in the coming weeks, according to the agreement, and may even include former members of the warring militias.

The militias themselves are supposed to be disarmed, surrendering or selling their weapons to the state, but details of the hand-over have not yet been worked out.

Still unclear is the extent to which Syria, as guarantor of the peace agreement, will become directly involved in enforcing it.

Syria has about 2,000 of its own troops in Beirut at the moment, but it is not known if the Syrians contemplate taking a direct military role in enforcing the peace before the warring militia groups are disarmed.

The Syrians attempted an ill-fated military intervention in 1976 and suffered heavy casualties. Assad is known to be wary of repeating the earlier mistake.

30,000 Syrian Troops

There are about 30,000 Syrian army troops in Lebanon, mostly in the eastern Bekaa Valley.

According to officials who have seen the accord, the document provides for extensive revision of the 1943 political formula designed by France to apportion power among Lebanon’s Christians and Muslims.

Essentially, the accord will set in motion a five-year transitional period at the end of which the governmental and bureaucratic divisions between Muslims and Christians will be abolished.

According to Lebanese officials, the current Lebanese coalition government, which was formed in May, 1984, after a peace conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, is expected to resign in the next few days and be replaced by a new Cabinet that will endorse the Damascus accord.

30 Cabinet Ministers

The new government will reportedly include 30 Cabinet ministers, six of whom will be designated “state ministers” and will constitute an inner Cabinet. The state ministers will be apportioned among the country’s various religious groups.

According to the officials, the Parliament will be replaced by a new, 198-seat legislature, twice the size of the current body.

In the new Parliament, Shia Muslim, Sunni Muslim and Maronite Christian representatives will be equally represented. The present Parliament is weighted in favor of the Christians.

Less Presidential Power

The powers of the president will reportedly be substantially reduced in the coming months as a new constitution is drawn up.

Under the 1943 formula, Lebanon’s president must be a Maronite. While that apparently will not change, many of the president’s prerogatives will be transferred to the council of ministers.

Several Christian leaders had balked at these provisions, leading to the postponement of the signing, originally set for Nov. 3.

Karim Pakradouni, a senior official of the Lebanese Forces, said the new agreement was made possible by a compromise between Muslims and Christians in which the president’s powers were “reduced, but not so much.”