Lebanon's main Christian militia grimly began withdrawing from Beirut Saturday to end 15 years of civil war before troops reunite the capital under government control.

The pullout by the 10,000-man Lebanese Forces, the strongest militia in the country, was a key to Syrian-backed President Elias Hrawi's drive to end the civil war.But the militiamen who quit their East Beirut hilltop stronghold of Ashrafiyeh after years of ruling the streets were skeptical that a reunited capital was headed for lasting peace.

"There will never be peace in Lebanon," said militiaman George Rashdan before he left. "Other countries, especially Syria, will never leave us alone. I don't trust this government."

Plastered with posters of LF leader Samir Geagea and flying white-and-red LF flags, a convoy of tanks and trucks loaded with militiamen and ammunition streamed out of Ashrafiyeh to LF-held mountains to the northeast.

Residents lined the coastal highway north of Beirut to witness the withdrawal. Many waved goodbye to the fighters and some women climbed on the trucks and distributed flowers.