BEIRUT — The army today set up a checkpoint outside the French Embassy, where defeated Christian Maj. Gen. Michel Aoun has taken refuge, heightening Lebanon's diplomatic quarrel with France over Aoun's fate.
Government bulldozers continued removing mines and mounds of earth along the five-mile Green Line that divides Beirut into Christian and Muslim sections. Workers on Monday opened one key intersection, the Galerie Semaan crossing, and motorists honked horns in jubilation as they drove through.
Several Cabinet ministers today compared the planned dismantling of the Green Line to the removal of the Berlin Wall.
The unification of the war-torn Lebanese capital is the next step to follow Saturday's end to Aoun's 11-month mutiny, when his troops were crushed in a Syrian-led assault.
France granted Aoun asylum Saturday, and French President Francois Mitterrand on Monday called the decision "a matter of honor."
But Lebanese Agriculture Minister Mohsen Dalloul said the government is determined to bring Aoun to trial and have asked the French to turn him over.
The army posted an armored personnel carrier and 12 soldiers, one equipped with tear gas canisters, on a checkpoint about 300 feet from the embassy in East Beirut.
French diplomats said the measure amounted to a siege. The French news agency Agence France-Presse quoted diplomats as saying that large numbers of troops had surrounded the embassy and closed all approaches.
Meanwhile, a newspaper today quoted a Cabinet minister in President Elias Hrawi's government as saying that the Western hostages held by pro-Iranian Shiite Muslims in Lebanon will be freed soon.
Agriculture Minister Dalloul said Syrian President Hafez Assad's government has made progress in its efforts to free the hostages.
"The question of the hostages is about to come to an end. Our Syrian brothers are carrying out contacts and have achieved progress," the leftist Beirut newspaper As-Safir quoted Dalloul as saying.
The daily said Dalloul declined to speculate on a release date or to say whether the 13 hostages would come out together or separately.