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Aoun Evacuates 700 Lebanese Soldiers From Besieged Base : Civil war: Action averts another close-quarters clash with Geagea's Lebanese Forces. But there is no sign that a cease-fire will hold.

February 19, 1990|NICK B. WILLIAMS Jr. | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Under the cloak of a fragile cease-fire, Maj. Gen. Michel Aoun on Sunday evacuated 700 of his loyalist Lebanese soldiers from a besieged helicopter base.

Aoun's able-bodied troops were transported in buses to the mountain town of Bikfaya, while the wounded left the base by ambulance to nearby hospitals. The helicopter base, manned by a loyalist commando unit, had come under heavy fire from the general's Christian rival, the Lebanese Forces militia.

It was not immediately known what had become of 12 attack helicopters reportedly based there.

The evacuation of the Adma base outside the port of Juniyah averted another close-quarters clash between Aoun's men and the Lebanese Forces. But there was no sign that the cease-fire--the 12th in 18 days of fighting--would lead to a lasting settlement of the struggle for military supremacy in Lebanon's Christian heartland.

The truce was hammered out Saturday night by representatives of Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, primate of the Maronite church, Lebanon's dominant Christian faith. Neither Aoun nor Samir Geagea made any concession of power in accepting the truce.

Aoun has demanded that the militia disband and acknowledge his loyalists as the sole legitimate military power in the country. Aoun himself, however, has been dismissed as commander of the Lebanese army by Elias Hrawi, the three-month president of an internationally recognized Beirut regime. Hrawi, Aoun and Geagea all are Maronites.

This round of fighting, among the fiercest of the 15-year civil war, has yet to sweep in Lebanon's Muslim forces. But Aoun, directing his men from his bunker headquarters at the presidential palace at Baabda outside East Beirut, has declared his aim as consolidation of Christian forces to present a unified front against a 40,000-man Syrian occupation army.

The militiamen and Aoun's American-trained battalions face each other in the densely populated neighborhoods of East Beirut and along the mountainous quarters of the Christian enclave. During the day Sunday, rocket and mortar fire was heard sporadically in the mountains, but no heavy shelling or ground movements were reported.

According to some reports, the next battle is likely to take place in the Ashrafiyeh district, a militia-controlled residential neighborhood abutting the Green Line separating the Muslim and Christian sectors of the capital. An Associated Press reporter, after Friday's bitter fighting that drove the militia from the adjoining district of Ain Rummaneh, quoted an Aoun loyalist as saying: "We are taking a short rest before we start uprooting them from Ashrafiyeh."

Ashrafiyeh has been badly damaged in previous fighting during the civil war. The narrow streets and two- and three-story apartment buildings would aid Geagea's lightly armed militiamen in a conflict with Aoun's tank-led forces.

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