Michel Aoun to Albawaba: Syrians are Liars, Lahoud is a Liaison Officer

Published March 20th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

By Mohammad Omar and Iyad Khlaifa 

Albawaba.com - Amman 

 

Former chief of the Lebanese army and military cabinet, Michel Aoun, accused Syria of “lying” regarding its relationship with Lebanon, and described Lebanese President Emile Lahoud as “a liaison officer’ and a “bankruptcy-receiver” charging that Lebanese security apparatus, and all institutions in the country with being under Syrian control. 

The general was defending protests staged by his supporters in Lebanon last week calling for Syrian withdrawal from the country, especially in light of the fact that the Syrian presence has lost its raison d'être, namely, Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon. 

The former leader, who was exiled from Lebanon in 1991 after having ruled Lebanon as head of a Christian military coalition between 1988 and 1990, accused Syria of “preventing him while in power from working to liberate the south due to an agreement between Damascus and Tel Aviv. 

He also charged that Syria’s pressures on the Palestinians during the seventies led to the compromises that Palestinian leadership has offered the Israelis during the peace talks in the 1990s. 

During his stint in power, Aoun carried out a "war of liberation against Syria" before being ousted by a Syrian-led military faction. 

Aoun said that although Syria announces that it seeks a relation with Beirut “on equal footing,” the application of the slogan is just the opposite. 

He added that Damascus uses the occupied Shabaa farms “as an excuse” to stay in Lebanon “ and loot its potentials.” The Christian leader called on Algeria, Morocco and Saudi Arabia ”to assume their responsibilities as sponsors of Taif Agreement,” which ended the 15-year civil war in October, 1989. 

 

Following are excerpts from the interview: 

 

Q: You are aware of the fact that the region is witnessing tension due to continuing threats by the Israeli government and the exploding situation in the Palestinian lands. Do you think that it is wise to call on the Lebanese to move against Syria at this very time? 

A: I have to work independently when it comes to basic rights that have been violated for 25 years. I cannot wait for international or regional changes to act. Syria wants the solar system to stop moving before they agree to discuss the issue [of their withdrawal from Lebanon]. If the Syrians want to fight Israel, why don’t they do that in the Golan. Why do they want to fight on the Lebanese front while the Golan front is quiet. 

 

Q: But you had the opportunity to act for years, why now? 

A: Priority was given to liberating the south and when that happened, we asked the Syrians to leave. A group of Lebanese even used the Israeli occupation as an excuse to prevent Lebanon’s independence.  

I did not provoke the Lebanese people. The one who did was [Syrian] President Bashar Al-Assad who said in an interview with Ashraq Alawast that “even if we sign a peace agreement with Israel, we will not get out of Lebanon.” Syrian sources also said that ”Lebanon is subject to threat at anytime, and we should watch Israel closely from there.” These statements indicate a sense of irresponsibility from the Syrians. Why would they provoke the Lebanese at a time when they should be standing by us “softcore” and hardcore.  

 

Q: A frequently asked question is - why didn’t you take any action during the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon. Why now? 

A: This is an exaggeration and a lie!  

 

Q: What do you have to prove it? 

A: In fact, it was Syria which prevented us from confronting Israel, and it was Syria that pledged to Tel Aviv that it would prevent any “aggressive action” launched from the territories under its control, according to signed agreements between the two sides. 

We should not overlook the fact that Syria entered Lebanon in 1996 with the consent of Israel, and under certain conditions set by a former US assistant state secretary. These included: 

- Syria’s army deployment should not go beyond the Awwali River line. 

- No anti-Israeli action could be launched from Syrian-controlled territories. 

- The Lebanese sky should be solely under Israeli control, and the Syrian airforce should not fly over the area. 

- Lebanese territorial waters should remain under the control of the Israeli navy. 

We did not act against the Israeli occupation because Syrian prohibited that in compliance with the above agreement. However, at a time when the Palestinian resistance was weak, and the Arab countries helpless, we had our position [against the Israeli occupation]. In short, the allegations are baseless. 

 

Q: But Damascus calls for equal bilateral ties with Beirut 

A: This is absolutely untrue and is all lies because the status quo of Damascus-Beirut relations are not built on equality. The [Lebanese] security and political apparatuses are completely affiliated with the Syrian. You should not count on such Syrian statements. In principle, we call for that, but the reality is that the Syrian apply the opposite of what they state. This was something inherent in the Syrian politics since [the time the late Syrian president] Hafez Al Assad came to power, until he died. 

 

Q: Supposing Syria wants to annex Lebanon, do you think that demonstrations and published articles will result in the Syrians being thrown out? Or is it possible that you would take more sophisticated actions? 

A: I want to ask a question: Isn’t it the right of all people in the world to have sovereignty over their own country? Would anyone accept that an army, even that of a brotherly country, imposes its control on their native land? Why would you accept that Syria dominates Lebanon in terms of politics, security, sovereignty and the national feelings of its people? 

How should a strange army stay in a country and call itself a brotherly army while the people reject it? We express our rejection through peaceful means, and everyone saw how the students demonstrated peacefully and in a civilized way. Despite this, intelligence agents smashed cars because Michel Aoun’s photographs were posted on them. However, we will ignore this and evaluate whether these peaceful protests are enough to convince the Syrians to leave Lebanon. 

 

Q: Do you agree with a proposal by [former Lebanese minister] Albert Mansour to fully implement the Mutual Friendship Agreement and the Taif Agreement, or do you want a complete Syrian pullback? 

A: In fact, the agreements that we rejected were coupled with media confusion, because the media outlets which reported them were dominated by either Syria, Israel or the US. In fact, there is no agreement that sets an exact date for the Syrian withdrawal, and [President] Bashar Al Assad explained this in his interview with Asharq Alawsat. 

I have sent letters to Arab leaders telling them that I am not against political and constitutional changes in Lebanon, but I wanted a definite schedule or guarantees that the Syrians would leave. 

 

Q: Some argue that if the Syrians get out of Lebanon, the civil war will be renewed. How do you respond to that? 

A: This is based on a wrong understanding of the course of events. Syria was the party that helped the Palestinians in Lebanon. I want to ask what is the Yarmouk Palestinian Army which entered Lebanon, and who supplied the different factions with arms, and where did they came from? All was through Syria, which supported the Palestinians and sought to destabilize the situation in Lebanon and then interfere as the savior who would save the country by diminishing the power of the Palestinian resistance, on which the present day compromises were imposed. 

If we analyze Syrian policies away from media propaganda, and declared slogans, we will find that they are compatible with the Israeli policies. They are big slogans with no implementation on the ground, because their battlefield with the Israelis is quit, while the Lebanese front is on fire, and now they have come up with the Shabaa issue. 

Did you know that these farms have been disputed since 1965 when the Israeli began to divert the waters [branches] of the River Jordan. The Syrians then took over Shabaa and fortified it. I remember that when I was a first lieutenant, I wanted to go to the farms but the Syrian forces did not allow me to. When we went to Madrid [peace conference in 1991], we said that Lebanon was not concerned with UN resolution 242, but with 425. Syria remained silent until Israel recognized the latter, and only then did it said that Shabaa is a Lebanese territory, without giving a written document to prove that. 

Syria wanted the farms as an excuse for its presence in Lebanon and for propaganda [purposes]. If there is anything that kills the pan-national feelings in Lebanon, it is the Syrian actions that are not up to pan-nationalism. 

 

Q: Some officials put the blame on you for the outbreak of the war. What are your comments on this? 

A: By the same token, we can blame the Palestinians for their resistance to the Israeli occupation of their lands. Occupation has nothing to do with brotherhood. Yes we are with Arab pan-nationalism, and share that with the Syrian people in particular, but the Israeli and the Syrian occupation of Lebanon are the same. We fight all occupiers, but we find people [Albert Mansour] who have given up resistance, but pin responsibility on us. 

 

Q: There are reports of Syrian threats against [Druze leader] Walid Jumblatt for anti-Syrian comments. Also, politicians have been assassinated because they held similar views … 

A: Yes like Kamal Jumblatt, Mufti Hassan Khaled, Mohammad Taha and Saleem Lawzi. However, I think the time for political assassinations is behind the Syrians now. After all, they are not internationally assigned to suppress the Lebanese, and the Palestinians press them for a final settlement {with Israel]. 

They cannot carry out assassinations, and what is left for them to do is some media commotion and setting up some societies. For example, a group of people in the Bekaa held celebrations announced that they will open fire on the Syrian army if it withdraws from the country. Can you imagine that? 

Another example, there will be [on Tuesday a statement of] commiseration for the UNESCO massacre [when the area where the UN body headquarters were located in West Beirut was attacked allegedly by Aoun’s forces during his fight against the Syrians]. 

In reality, what happened was that the Syrian artillery shelled the area and killed people there to incite a rift among the Lebanese people. Then, I and [former premier] Saleem Hoss, demanded an Arab investigation into the incident but they [the Syrians] pressed Hoss to withdraw his testimony. Meanwhile, I insisted on mine. It is a known fact that the armies keep records of operation orders. Where are they? I tell you, they are with the Syrians who took them when they took hold of the Yarza [the Lebanese defense ministry offices]. 

We cannot build history on lies, and incite sectarian differences among the people in an attempt to keep the problem alive. 

 

Q: Can you guarantee that a war will not break out after the Syrian withdrawal? As you know, there is an Israeli occupation, espionage networks, armed Palestinian and Lebanese factions etc. 

A: Those groups that threaten to resort to arms are pro-Syrian. Those who are against the Syria are not armed. The trouble-makers are Syrian-supported factions like [Shiite] Amal and Hizbollah and pro-Syria Palestinian factions. If we want to fight, we will use the rock and the knife. However, I think that the Palestinians have learnt from their experiences that their problem is not in Lebanon, and the Lebanese are not willing to fight each other. On the other hand, there is a media campaign crusade for the Syrian presence. After all, we have a 70,000-strong army that no faction can defy if the leadership is decisive. 

 

Q: You were supposed to return to Lebanon, but you were threatened that your files would be opened… 

A: There are no files. I have the files [of the opponents]. 

 

Q: Maybe they said that to prevent your return to Lebanon? 

A: I’ll answer this with a paragraph from a statement that I will issue today [Monday]: “There is no commission money in our pockets, and we do not behave as collaborators, and our conscience is not burdened with atrocities.” 

 

Q: Is there coordination between you and regional or international parties before you make these moves? 

A: Of course. The Lebanese are communicating among each other, and with Syrians. I do not mean here communications at the level of leadership. I talk to all the Lebanese with an open heart and mind, including Amal and Hizbollah. I told them that they should not have been disturbed by lies spread about us. We never said bad things about them, although we have not overlooked their relations with the Syrians. 

 

Q: Does that mean that coordination is confined to domestic parties? 

A: No. In fact, I have sent messages to Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Morocco calling for guarantees of a Syrian pullout. 

 

Q: How do you describe your relation with the Lebanese leadership, particularly President Emile Lahoud? 

A: Lahoud has no authority in Lebanon. He is a mere bankruptcy-receiver and a liaison officer. He has no say in any issue. Have you ever known him having a say on any topic?  

 

Q: The Syrians say that they entered Lebanon under an agreement with the Lebanese government and will walk out only with an agreement with Beirut. 

A: This is a lie. Where is that document? This is a robbery and the Arabs have to stand up to their responsibilities and come up with a solution at the level of the Arab League regarding this. 

Syria cannot keep things as is, especially in light of the rising aggressive sentiments against its presence, the failure of the authority in Lebanon and the deteriorating economic situation. 

Foreign debt stands now at 164 percent against GDP. 1,200, 000 Lebanese have immigrated in the last decade. It’s a transfer policy and an ethnic cleansing carried out so resourcefully. Nevertheless, it’s a crime against humanity.  

© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)


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