PARIS (Oct. 25)
The twin terrorist bomb attacks in Beirut which killed at least 243 American and French soldiers have not affected France’s determination to continue its peace mission in Lebanon, French officials said here last night as President Francois Mitterrand returned to Paris after a seven-hour trip to the stricken city.
The army Chief of Staff, Gen. Rene Imbot, in an order of the day, said the army’s “will to complete its mission is, if anything, harder and more resolute than before”.
Mitterrand’s trip to Beirut, during which he paid homage to the French and American soldiers killed or wounded in the line of duty, is seen here as a symbolic gesture of his determination to keep his men in Beirut as part of the multinational force.
Mitterrand met on three different occasions with Lebanese President Amin Gemayel during the day and each time reiterated his promise to keep on supporting Lebanon’s legal government.
Sunday night Mitterrand had a brief telephone conversation with President Reagan who French sources say assured him that America will continue with its own commitment but does not intend to drastically increase its forces in Lebanon. The French, as the figures of American lasses came in, were reportedly worried that Reagan might decide to order a massive retaliation.
The French were reassured by Reagan’s promise to keep the U.S. forces in Beirut but to refrain from a possible escalation which the French wanted to avoid.
The public is still stunned and shocked by the heavy loss of life. French radio and television have failed to give the total figures of the French death toll, stressing that close to 50 men are still unaccounted for and “could well be alive.”
The French soldiers serving in Beirut were regular conscripts who had volunteered for the special assignment and not professional soldiers like their American counterparts.
Opposition parties as well as the press have up till now strongly backed the government in its determination to pursue its mission. The center-right opposition has, if anything, backed the government more energetically than its own Socialist majority. Only the Communists have called for a withdrawal of the 2,300 French soldiers and their eventual replacement by a United Nations force.
RECONCILIATION TALKS SET FOR OCTOBER 31
Meanwhile, the Swiss government announced yesterday that it will host the Lebanese reconciliation conference in Geneva. The Federal announcement said the conference will start on October 31 and that representatives of the government and practically all the warring factions are expected to attend.
Among them are the Lebanese Premier, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and possibly Gemayel himself. A Syrian high-level “observer” delegation is also expected to attend the week-long parley which will try to seek a solution to 12 years of practically constant fighting.