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Serious Rift Develops in Lebanese Reconciliation Talks

A serious rift developed in the Lebanese national reconciliation conference here today when the participants, having agreed in principle on the urgent need for a ceasefire, were unable to agree how it would be supervised and in what framework. The differences were so acute that the conference degenerated into a shouting match at one point, some of those present reported.

Eight Lebanese leaders representing the main factions in Lebanon are attending. The original proposal for a cease-fire was that the heads of the four largest militias — Walid Jumblatt of the Druze, Nabih Berri of the Shiite Moslem Al Amal, and Camille Chamoun and Pierre Gemayel, representing the Christian Free Lebanese Forces–would jointly declare a cease-fire of indefinite duration. This would be signed by President Amin Gemayel.

Jumblatt and Berri objected on grounds that Gemayel should not be given the prerogative of an arbiter because like themselves, he is no more than the head of one of the warring factions.

A serious split developed at the outset of the conference over who and what elements will control the truce. Some participants, mainly the Christians, wanted the army to undertake the task. Others insisted that the militias be formally mobilized and assume the role of the national forces.

Foreign Minister Abdel Khalim Khadam of Syria, newly promoted First Deputy Vice President, sat in silence as the various Lebanese leaders fought a verbal battle over their differences. When the conference opened, he had urged all of the participants to reach an understanding and finally end years of fighting and bloodshed in Lebanon. His subsequent silence was seen by some participants as a tactic “to let us fight it out and only later (Syria would) enforce a ceasefire, showing the positive role Syria played.”

U.S. PLAYING NO ROLE IN THE TALKS

Most observers are convinced, however, that Syria genuinely wants a lasting truce in Lebanon in order to better enforce its domination over that country. Several foreign diplomatic observers, including an American official, conferred today with most of the participants. They said that it was an informative session and that Washington is playing no role whatsoever in the conference proceedings.

The conference is the second round of Lebanese reconciliation talks. The first round, held in Geneva, ended in failure last November 4. Since then, President Gemayel has formally repudiated his May 17, 1983 withdrawal and security agreement with Israel, as demanded by Syria.

Some observers noted that while Israel’s presence was an important factor at the Geneva meeting, it is Syria’s influence which dominates the proceedings in Lausanne. The Syrians are not only here but seem to be in effective control, the observers say.

Nevertheless, despite its physical absence, Israel exerts an indirect influence on the current talks. Most of the participants are wondering how Israel will react to whatever emerges from this conference and what the consequences will be.

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