French seek safe conduct from Lebanon for Aoun

October 15, 1990|By New York Times News Service DL BEIRUT, Lebanon

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- As thousands of Syrian troops tightened their grip yesterday on the sectors of East Beirut that they had entered on Saturday, the defeated Christian chief, Gen. Michel Aoun, remained stranded at the French Embassy while France negotiated for his safe passage into exile.

French military personnel surrounded their embassy, fearing that angry opponents of General Aoun or Lebanese and Syrian troops loyal to President Elias Hrawi might try to storm the compound.

General Aoun, who had led a mostly Christian faction of the Lebanese army while defying government orders to hand over command, arrived at the embassy on Friday with eight top subordinates and their families just before Syrian air and ground forces swooped down on East Beirut in an assault that had been designed to force him to end his opposition to Mr. Hrawi.

The French ambassador in Lebanon, Rene Ala, met with Mr. Hrawi yesterday but failed to persuade the president to let General Aoun go, officials said.

Officials said that the Lebanese government was split between Christians urging that General Aoun be brought to justice and Moslems wanting him to be let go. Government officials said Defense Minister Albert Mansour, a Christian, wanted to try General Aoun on accusations of state crimes and the embezzlement of $75 million worth of government money.

Christian residents of East Beirut woke up to a sight they had not seen for almost eight years: Syrian tanks and troops patrolling their streets.

They also took stock of the punishment inflicted by the final Syrian onslaught: at least 45 killed and 250 wounded and extensive property damage. Almost every home and building in Mar Takla, an East Beirut neighborhood, was pockmarked from Saturday's air raids and relentless artillery bombardment.

Many Christians, especially young men, remained indoors fearing arrest by Syrian soldiers, who had lists of Aoun loyalists.

Christian militiamen under the pro-Syrian chief Elie Hobeika erected barricades every hundred yards deep inside East Beirut. Their commander, Mike Aris, said he was collecting infiltrators loyal to Samir Geagea, General Aoun's main Christian rival, in order to avoid revenge killings.

At the presidential palace in Baabda, the Beirut suburb where General Aoun made his headquarters, Syrian officers sat at the entrance sipping tea and eating meat pies for breakfast.

The crossing points between East and West Beirut were reopened, some after six years of being closed. Moslems who had not visited East Beirut since the civil war erupted 15 years ago dared to enter yesterday. But despite the easing of tensions, many residents remained apprehensive.

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