Lebanon’s defeated Christian military leader, Gen. Michel Aoun, began a life in exile Friday at a heavily guarded French villa after a secret journey from Beirut.
Aoun, 55, drove through the gates of a seaside villa in this southern port in a police-escorted motorcade to a reunion with his wife and three daughters Friday morning, witnesses said.
The general and his aides had sought shelter in the French Embassy in Beirut on Oct. 13, after Lebanese and Syrian army troops smashed Aoun’s 11-month mutiny in the Christian heartland north of that capital.
The defeat of the renegade general allowed Lebanon to proceed with a plan to restore peace to the country after 16 years of civil war.
Aoun’s arrival followed two days of conflicting reports that he had left Beirut by submarine, French warship, private jet and even by inflatable dinghy. His travel was organized by French intelligence agents.
“Due to security considerations, a certain amount of discretion” was called for, said a French Foreign Ministry spokesman, who spoke Friday on condition he not be identified.
The spokesman refused to say exactly how the general had made it to France or where he would eventually settle.
Aoun was accompanied by his aides, Maj. Gen. Edgar Maalouf and Brig. Gen. Issam Abu Jamra, and a bodyguard, the French government confirmed.
Aoun made no statement and was not seen after the gates to the villa closed behind his motorcade.
Aoun’s mutiny at the head of 20,000 Christian troops marked one of the bloodiest periods of the Lebanese civil war, including artillery duels in Beirut that claimed nearly 1,000 civilian lives.
Aoun, a former Lebanese army commander, rebelled against the Nov. 24, 1989, election of Elias Hrawi as president by the Lebanese Parliament. He claimed that the election was prejudiced by Syrian influence.
Syria maintains 40,000 troops in Lebanon under a 1976 Arab League mandate and backs Hrawi’s government.
After his defeat last October, Aoun found political asylum in the French Embassy in Beirut, but Hrawi refused to allow him or his aides to leave Lebanon.
Hrawi demanded that Aoun be turned over to face charges of stealing up to $125 million in state funds, but the French government refused.
Months of negotiations resulted in the Lebanese government signing a general amnesty earlier in the week for civil war crimes, and a special pardon for Aoun.
The departure of Aoun marked an immediate upturn in Franco-Lebanese relations. A French Foreign Ministry communique said Hrawi invited Foreign Minister Roland Dumas to visit Lebanon and Dumas accepted.