Syria and Lebanon agreed to quicken plans for a demilitarization of war-battered Beirut that would end 15 years of militia rule, political sources said.
The sources said the agreement was reached during a meeting in Damascus early Sunday that included Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam, Lebanese Defense Minister Albert Mansour and Mohsen Daloul, Lebanon's minister of agriculture.The conferees agreed that a process to rid Beirut of warring militias should be finalized by the coming weekend, the sources said.
Mansour and Daloul met with Nabih Berri, chief of the pro-Syrian Shiite Amal militia, immediately after they returned from Damascus late Sunday. Berri later issued a statement saying he agreed with the plan to create the demilitarized zone.
"I have already given orders to my followers to start prepare for the zero hour to shut down their offices," Berri's statement said.
A ranking source said "the zero hour for the creation of a (demilitarized) greater Beirut area will be declared by the end of the week."
Daloul, in an interview with United Press International earlier this week, indicated that the government intended to clean out arms caches in the city.
"A political decision to clear Beirut completely of guns has been taken, but such a complicated operation will be carried out by the army, " Daloul said.
The two ministers have met with various militia leaders since holdout Christian Gen. Michel Aoun was driven from the presidential palace by a Syrian-Lebanese force Oct. 13.
Sources said the Christian Lebanese Forces militia, which patrols a ghetto in east Beirut, and the pro-Iranian Shiite Moslem Hezbollah organization, which maintains bases in southern Beirut, have already withdrawn heavy arms.
The government plan to rid Beirut of militia presence was in line of a national reconciliation accord that was crafted by the Lebanese Parliament in Saudi Arabia last October, stipulating military and political steps to achieve constitutional reforms and end 15 years of bloody crises.
Aoun had rebuffed the internationally blessed accord for failing to ensure a speedy and full withdrawal of Syria's 35,000 troops from the country.
After being driven from the palace, Aoun took refuge in the French Embassy on the eastern outskirts of Beirut. French President Francois Mitterrand has rejected a request from the Lebanese government to hand over Aoun to stand trial.