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A Trial Tests Lebanese Justice

Two women face off in a case that touches both their families, and which some say is an attempt to curb resistance to Syrian control

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TWO of Lebanon's most glamorous women are locked in a heated struggle, one to save her husband from the gallows, the other to obtain justice for her brutally murdered father and his family.

At the heart of the affair is the former Christian militia chief, Samir Geagea. As commander of the ``Lebanese Forces,'' a Christian militia, he was arguably the most powerful man in the country in the late 1980s.

But now he is under arrest and faces trial on two sets of charges - both carrying the death penalty. In one of them, he is accused of masterminding the assassination of rival Christian leader, Dany Chamoun.

Chamoun, his second wife, and two young sons were shot dead in their home in 1990, in such a callous manner that it shocked even the war-hardened Lebanese.

Mr. Geagea's young wife, Sitrida, is leaving no stone unturned in her efforts to lobby his case in what his supporters claim is a highly politically motivated prosecution - and some say an attempt to eliminate Christian resistance to Syrian control in Lebanon.

Chamoun's eldest daughter, Tracy, has meanwhile returned to Lebanon from the United States to take up the cause on behalf of her father and the murdered family.

Born from Chamoun's first marriage to Australian Patti Morgan, a top fashion model in the 1950s, Tracy is planning to bring a private prosecution against Geagea, in tandem with the state's efforts.

She is also assuming the Chamoun family mantle and launching herself into a political career.

``It's not a question of revenge, but of justice,'' she says. ``We as Lebanese know better than anyone that revenge can lead to 18 years of civil war. But especially in a country that's emerging out of war, it's very important that justice be done so that people can feel safe once again.

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