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Aoun surrenders troops after Syrian-backed attack

By SAHAR BAASIRI

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Christian militia leader Michel Aoun ended his two-year mutiny Saturday, ordered his forces to surrender and sought refuge in the French Embassy in Beirut after Syrian-backed Lebanese government forces attacked his headquarters.

As tank-led ground forces advanced into Aoun's enclave and aircraft bombed the Baabda presidential palace that served as the maverick general's headquarters, President Elias Hrawi announced the success of the military operation that claimed at least 45 lives and wounded 255 others.

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Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Al Sharaa said the surrender of Aoun and his troops would help restore peace, security and stability to Lebanon, where a civil war has been raging since 1975.

Shortly after the expected offensive began, Aoun fled to the French Embassy, announced his surrender and ordered his troops to obey the army commander, Gen. Emil Lahhoud.

Aoun was granted political asylum, but official sources said Lebanese troops surrounded the French Embassy building in the Christian district of Hazmiyeh where Aoun remained holed up pending an expected government declaration on his fate.

The pro-Syrian leadership reportedly was demanding that the deposed general should refrain from engaging in political activity and deliver $15 million worth of government funds he had seized.

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Aoun refused last year to recognize a Christian-Moslem agreement to settle Lebanon's 15-year-old civil war or to concede he is no longer head of a transitional government appointed by President Amin Gemayel Sept. 22, 1988, after Parliament failed to elect a successor.

His forces estimated to number 15,000 have been battling the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon, a battle that resulted in more than 1,000 deaths last year. Aoun has also been engaged in a power struggle since last January with a rival Christian militia along a demarcation line splitting east Beirut.

In his surrender statement broadcast on his radio station, Aoun said: 'In regard of the political and combat circumstances and in order to avert more bloodshed and more damage and save what has left, I call on the army command to obey orders by Gen. Emile Lahoud.'

The surrender occurred one day after Aoun escaped an assassination attempt and vowed to 'fight to death' against the attack he said he expected.

Hrawi announced the success of the military operation and thanked the Syrian forces for backing the operation.

'The military operation has been carried out swiftly,' Hrawi said in a nationwide speech. 'The legitimate forces with a grateful help of the brotherly Syrian forces carried out its sacred duties of protecting the country and the its institutions.'

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Hrawi said his government exhausted all means to end Aoun's mutiny peacefully and the military offensive was the last option.

'The (military) option was difficult but inevitable,' he said.

He called on all Lebanese, especially military personnel, to join 'a national march aimed at restoring peace and stability and expanding the government authority on all Lebanese territories.'

By late Saturday, officials said all regular units stationed in Aoun's enclavedeclared loyalty to Lahoud's command.

Army Commander Lahoud inspected Baabda palace and the nearby Ministry of Defence as his tanks, flying white flags, manned the streets of the Christian enclave.

Officials said seven Syrian-manned and Soviet-made Sukhoi warplanes began a series of raids on Aoun's headquarters in the district of Baabda, 5 miles southeast of Beirut.

While the jets pounded Aoun's headquarters, thousands of Syrian- backed forces launched an offensive on Aoun's enclave, unleashing rockets and artillery shells.

Large artillery blasts echoed across Beirut Saturday and many people in the Moslem sector of the city refrained from opening their businesses.

Presidential spokeswoman May Kahale said Aoun fled his bunker one hour after the start of the offensive and arrived in a tank along with a number of officers at the French Embassy.

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Lebanese Prime Minister Selim Hoss who described the surrender as 'historic,' and congratulated the Lebanese people 'for the end of their ordeal.'

'I thank God that this situation has been folded forever,' he said. 'We now have to heal our wounds and start a long-awaited march for peace and reconciliation.'

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