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Lebanese factions convene in Geneva -- still divided

Lebanon's warring factions passed the first hurdle toward long-awaited peace talks by convening here Monday. For the Maronite Christians, the main issues are to end the continued presence of Syrian and Israeli troops on Lebanese soil and to reestablish security by extending the area of control of the Lebanese Army.

The Muslim opposition has drawn up a working paper for constitutional reform that calls for the abolition of sectarianism and the election of a national president by popular vote. Opposition sources say the working paper also calls for the creation a second parliamentary chamber, the expansion of the existing lower chamber, and the abolition of the post of army commander, traditionally held by a Maronite.

Meanwhile, artillery and machine-gun clashes erupted in the hills southeast of Beirut hours before the talks were set to begin. An unprecedented calm had been reported Sunday, prompting speculation that the fighters were giving their leaders in Geneva a chance to talk in peace.

Druze Muslim leader Walid Jumblatt has said cease-fire violations could end the talks.


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