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Lebanese Militia Chief Orders Truce, Pullout

United Press International

A rebel Christian militia chief today announced a unilateral cease-fire and troop withdrawal from the hills east of the port of Sidon to “give peace a chance” after a month of clashes with Muslim forces.

The cease-fire around the southern city, where at least 90 people have been killed since March 18, went into effect in the afternoon and 300 to 400 Christian militiamen were to begin pulling out Tuesday morning.

Sidon residents, reached by telephone, said Christians and Muslims fired artillery at each other shortly before the cease-fire deadline but that the fighting had almost stopped 20 minutes later. Three people were reported wounded.

To Withdraw Forces

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“We will meticulously abide by the cease-fire to give peace a chance,” Christian militia leader Samir Geagea, chief of staff of the Christian Lebanese Forces militias, said.

“We will also withdraw those of our forces which had been sent to the region as reinforcements but the local armed villagers will stay and defend their lands and homes.

“Every Lebanese has the right to stay and defend his village but our cease-fire and withdrawal decisions are primarily aimed at restoring peace to the Sidon region,” he said.

Geagea did not say how large the local force was but insisted that it had no hostile or military objectives. He said it was up to the Lebanese army to move into positions vacated by the Christians to provide security.

Battling Near Sidon

Geagea’s militiamen had been battling Palestinian-backed Muslim units east of Sidon and shelling the city and nearby Palestinian refugee camps since March 18.

The fighting erupted less than a week after Geagea led the Lebanese Forces in a revolt against President Amin Gemayel because of his pro-Syrian policies. The militia was founded by Gemayel’s late brother, Bashir.

Each side has accused the other of starting the fighting around Sidon.

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Geagea said the cease-fire decision was based more on his desire for peace than military conditions.

“We are taking a large step which we hope the other side will reciprocate with a similar measure,” Geagea told a news conference.

“We will withdraw the 300 to 400 men who had gone to the Sidon region in the form of reinforcements. Local villagers will stay on and do what they have to do.

“From the moment after our withdrawal, the security and safety of local citizens and villages is the task of the central government, the Lebanese army, the legitimate government authority,” Geagea said.

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