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Aoun pullout from base puts showdown on hold

Under the cloak of a fragile cease-fire, Maj. Gen. Michel Aoun on Sunday evacuated 700 of his loyalist Lebanese soldiers from a besieged helicopter base. Aoun's able-bodied troops were transported in buses to the mountain town of Bikfaya, while the wounded left the base by ambulance to nearby hospitals. The helicopter base, manned by a loyalist commando unit, had come under heavy fire from the general's Christian rival, the Lebanese Forces militia.

The evacuation of the Adma base outside the port of Juniyeh averted another close-quarters clash between Aoun's men and the Lebanese Forces. But there was no sign that the cease-fire _ the 12th in 18 days of fighting _ would lead to a lasting settlement of the struggle for military supremacy in the Christian heartland of Lebanon.

The truce was hammered out Saturday night by representatives of Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, primate of the Maronite church, Lebanon's dominant Christian faith. Neither Aoun nor Samir Geagea, the militia leader, made any concession of power in accepting the truce.

Aoun has demanded that the militia disband and acknowledge his loyalists as the sole legitimate military power in the country. Aoun himself, however, has been dismissed as commander of the Lebanese army by Elias Hrawi, who has been president of an internationally recognized Beirut regime for three months. Hrawi, Aoun and Geagea all are Maronites.