Aoun’s Family Flies to France; Lebanon Denies Soldiers Massacred
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Gen. Michel Aoun’s family late Friday flew to exile in France as a dispute between the French government and Lebanese intensified over the fate of the defeated rebel general.
A small French government jet landed in France before dawn Saturday, carrying Aoun’s wife, Nadia, and their three daughters, Mireille, 22, Claudine, 19, and Chantal.
Aoun has been holed up in the French Embassy since last Saturday, when his 11-month mutiny was crushed by Syrian-led forces in a blitz that left at least 350 people dead.
The Lebanese government has refused to allow Aoun and his aides to leave, and is insisting the general face justice for crimes including the theft of at least $75 million from the state treasury.
Also aboard the jet were the wives of two senior aides to Aoun, Brig. Gen. Isam Abu Jamra and Col. Adel Sassine. They were accompanied by Abu Jamra’s four children and Sassine’s two boys, Beirut airport officials said.
The French news agency Agence France-Presse, quoting an informed source, said the Mystere-20 jet landed at a military airport in France but that the location was not disclosed for security reasons.
The plane’s departure from Beirut was delayed more than five hours after Lebanese customs officials confiscated $200,000 cash from the bags of the three women, the officials said.
An earlier Defense Ministry communique said Mrs. Abu Jamra alone was stripped of $150,000.
The ministry communique said policemen combed the luggage, ignoring the protests of French Ambassador Rene Ala, who accompanied the women and children from the French embassy to the airport.
The 12 dependents emerged from the French embassy Friday night in a 10- vehicle convoy. They drove from the eastern suburb of Hazmiyeh to the airport at full speed, passing through several Lebanese and Syrian army checkpoints that made no attempt to stop them.
Aoun, Abu Jamra, Sassine and a third officer, Maj. Gen. Edgar Maalouf stayed at the embassy where they sought refuge on Saturday after their rebellion was crushed in a crackdown by Lebanese and Syrian troops.
France has granted the officers and their families asylum.
Also Friday, the Lebanese government angrily denied French reports that scores of Aoun’s followers were massacred after they surrendered.
Prime Minister Salim Hoss described the reports as ″allegations based on biased rumors,″ and the Defense Ministry said in a communique that the account was ″absolutely baseless.″
Witnesses said Aoun’s wife and three daughters left the French Embassy in a convoy of embassy cars escorted by Lebanese military police. Two Air France jets had arrived in Beirut earlier.
In Paris, the French Foreign Ministry said it was trying to obtain independent confirmation of reports that up to 100 of Aoun’s troops were executed, but said it also wanted United Nations action.
In a statement, the ministry called on U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar to intervene, saying the reported atrocities ″aroused extreme emotion″ in France.
Roman Catholic leaders in France pleaded with the government Friday to aid Lebanon’s Christians. Cardinal Albert Decourtnay, president of the national conference of Catholic bishops, said Lebanon ″is experiencing the most tragic hours of its history.″
The Lebanese Defense Ministry communique said Aoun’s slain troops ″fell in the military operation″ and there was no post-surrender massacre.
When police examined the bodies at the Baabda government hospital’s morgue, ″we found no solid evidence that the soldiers were liquidated,″ a police spokesman said Thursday.
″None of the corpses we examined had hands tied behind the back and very few of the dead soldiers were hit in the skulls with bullets,″ said the spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
President Elias Hrawi accused Aoun of ordering his troops to continue fighting on Saturday even after he broadcast a message of surrender.
The eight-hour air and ground assault by Syrian and Lebanese troops left 350 people dead and 1,200 wounded, by police count. According to police, the fatalities included at least 100 Syrian soldiers.
Hrawi claimed that Aoun told his forces in a radio message: ″I’m in the French embassy. The outcome (of the battle) will be favorable to us. Go on. Go on fighting.″
″These were the orders Aoun radioed to his forces, even after his message of surrender was broadcast,″ the presidential press office quoted Hrawi as saying.
Military sources described ″ferocious hand-to-hand fighting″ on the eastern edge of the area Aoun had controlled. One source said that after Aoun’s surrender, one of his commanders told the Syrians his troops were giving up - then opened fire when the Syrians came forward.
″Syrian infantrymen came out of their trenches to open terrain and were advancing slowly toward Aoun’s lines to take over without shooting,″ the source said.
″Aoun’s troops remained behind their barricades and opened up at the exposed forces with howitzers, mortars and machine guns, killing most of them, if not all,″ the source added.
The Syrians then overran the position, the source said.
Hrawi plans to form a government of reconciliation to unify divided Beirut and implement a peace accord to end the 15-year-old civil war and give Moslems and Christians equal power.
Aoun rejected the peace accord, largely because it did not set a timetable for withdrawing Syrian forces.
Syria, the main powerbroker in Lebanon, has had troops in the country since 1976. The Syrians are considered an army of occupation by many Christians.