Monday, March 21, 2005
"General" Michel Aoun: the 'general' of all the Lebanese?
Exiled leader plans to return to Lebanon
Key opposition Christian will go home as soon as Syria completes withdrawal
By LUCY FIELDER
Reuters News Service
BEIRUT -- Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun said yesterday he hopes to end 14 years of exile and return to Lebanon within weeks, as soon as the Syrians have completely withdrawn from the country.
The staunchly anti-Syrian Mr. Aoun also said that Syrian-backed Prime Minister Omar Karami should resign because he will not be able to complete his task of forming a national-unity government with opposition members. If Mr. Karami refuses to quit, he should be pressured to leave, Mr. Aoun said.
Speaking by telephone from Paris, he said he would set a date for his return some time between a Lebanese-Syrian military meeting on April 7 to work out a timetable for the second phase of the withdrawal and the start of elections planned for May.
Mr. Karami resigned under intense opposition pressure on Feb. 28, but was reinstated 10 days later to try to form a unity government to end a political crisis sparked by the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Mr. Karami should resign "right now, because he's not going to form a government," Mr. Aoun said.
Mr. Aoun, who was forced into exile a year after Syrian forces crushed his rebellion and ended the Lebanese civil war in 1990, welcomed the first phase of Syria's troop pullout, completed on Thursday.
Syria bowed to international demands for a withdrawal of its troops and its feared intelligence agents after huge Beirut street protests sparked by Mr. Hariri's death in a Feb. 14 bomb attack, for which many held Damascus responsible.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan expects Syria to fully withdraw before the elections, UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said after briefing Mr. Annan on his recent talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad. He did not say whether Mr. Assad had committed himself to that timetable.
Mr. Aoun has strong support among a core of anti-Syrian Christians who have stepped up calls for his return, but it is not clear what political role he would play once back in Beirut.
Echoing growing fears within Lebanon of a prolonged political crisis, Mr. Aoun said he thinks the elections will not be held on time because a government has still not been formed.
In order for the vote to be completed before May 31, as required by the constitution, Mr. Karami must form a government and then quickly either draft a controversial law changing electoral boundaries, or agree to stay with the current one.
An election date must be set at least a month before polls start, which would mean by mid-April at the latest, and that looks highly unlikely. Lebanese elections are usually staggered over several weeks.
Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt, the opposition's most prominent voice, said on Thursday no opposition members would join a national government while pro-Syrian President Émile Lahoud is in power.
Mr. Aoun took a softer line.
"The opposition may change its position and participate in a new interim government with a new prime minister," he said.
He also said he unconditionally supports United Nations resolution 1559, which calls for a complete Syrian withdrawal but also for Shia Muslim Hezbollah guerrillas to disarm. Washington, which has branded the popular group a terrorist organization, makes the same demand.
Mr. Jumblatt stands by the armed "Islamic resistance," which was allowed to keep its arms at the end of the civil war to fight Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon.
Mr. Aoun said it is the government's job to protect the people.
1) It points out (correctly) that Aoun is a Christian leader (which is much more than a simple reference to his religious beliefs -- you will understand this if you know how sectarian politics works in Lebanon).
2) The bulk of support that Aoun enjoys is Christian, which demolishes the argument that Aoun wants to secularise Lebanon.
3) He supports 1559, a zionist resolution (Aoun denies he is an Israeli agent).
4) He supports the disarming of the "Shia Muslim" militia (not "the" militia called Hezballah), which again points to his sectarian mentality.
5) Jumblatt does not support 1559, which shows that the "opposition" itself is not as united as it would like the world to think it is.
6) It exposes Aoun's attempt to change the facts: he argues that it's the government's job to protect the people, yet the government (and the army) did nothing to protect or free the Lebanese imprisoned by Israel and the SLA. Moreover, Aoun said nothing, no, more, did nothing, when Israel was occupying South Lebanon. This demolishes the claim that Aoun is 1) patriotic 2) not an Israeli agent 3) not biased against Muslims. In fact, Aoun should be the last one to talk about patriotism. Was he not the one who bombed Lebanese residential areas claiming he was fighting the Syrians?
Admit it, Aoun, you just hate Syrians and you don't care one bit about the Lebanese.