Aoun reconciles with former LF foes

By Majdoline Hatoum

BEIRUT: One day after his historic return from exile, former Lebanese Army General Michel Aoun called on his former political foes to “look ahead to the future, but keep an eye on the past.” After meeting on Sunday with Strida Geagea, the wife of jailed Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea who fought a bloody battle with Aoun toward the end of Lebanon’s civil war, Aoun said: “We hope Geagea will be free with us soon, and I will try to meet with him as soon as possible, even if that means I visit him in his jail.”

Aoun, who received a welcoming telephone call from Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and met with former President Amine Gemayel during the day, is also expected to meet with Maronite Patriarch

Nasrallah Butros Sfeir following a visit from Archbishop Roland Abu Jaoude on behalf of the patriarch.

Sfeir and Aoun had sharp differences in the past, but during Sfeir’s recent trip to Paris, the two reconciled their differences.

 He is expected to meet with Hizbullah today.

Referring to the resistance group Aoun said: “There is a certain intellectual diversity in the country, and we cannot build a new Lebanon without this diversity. This is democracy and there are some national constituencies which we respect,” he said referring to the resistance party.

The 70-year-old politician, who has spent the past 15 years working against Syrian hegemony over Lebanon from his exile in Paris, received an emotional welcome from tens of thousands Lebanese flag waving supporters who made their way down to Martyrs’ Square on Saturday to hear his historic speech.

Speaking from behind a bullet proof screen, flanked by Major Generals Issam Abu Jamra and Edgar Maalouf who returned with him from exile, Aoun said: “I return today, as the sun of liberty shines upon us, to rebuild together a new Lebanon. Minds must be changed and we must get rid of the political feudalism and a sectarian system that dates back to the 19th century.”

He added: “We no longer want religious sectarianism that kills. We have to fight it along with the political money that has corrupted Lebanon and taken the country to the verge of bankruptcy.”

Aoun said the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri “accelerated” the Syrian evacuation from Lebanon, but added the credit belonged to UN Resolution 1559, which he said he had been lobbying for in France.

He said: “The international resolution was the driving factor of the Syrian evacuation. It was taken before the extension of President Lahoud’s term in office in September and before the assassination of Hariri.”

But Aoun’s return was not welcomed by all Lebanese politicians. Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt had earlier insisted Syria’s withdrawal had nothing to do with Aoun.

Aoun declined to be drawn on Jumblatt’s comments but said: “If Jumblatt wants to cooperate with us in a positive way, then it is a chance to rebuild and strengthen Lebanon.”

Aoun also rejected some MPs renewed calls for President Emile Lahoud’s resignation.

He said: “They must wait for a new Parliament. The current MPs were voted in through an incorrect electoral law and under occupation. They cannot try anyone when a large part of them need to be tried.”