Ex-inmates protest amnesty proposal for former SLA militiamen
BEIRUT - Ex-inmates of the notorious Khiam prison, a detention center run by the South Lebanon Army during the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, returned to their old prison yesterday to stage a sit-in against an amnesty proposal that would allow members of the now defunct militia living in Israel to return home.
Several hundred former soldiers and officers of the Israeli-allied SLA fled to Israel fearing reprisal if they remained in Lebanon once Israel withdrew its forces from the south in May 2000 after an 18-year occupation.
With other controversial prisoners being issued amnesties of late, the fate of the former militia has reemerged in debates, and Christian politicians want pardons declared for the men so they can return home. Lebanese Muslims, in particular the militant Shiite Hezbollah, which continues to fight Israeli forces in border skirmishes, oppose the idea.
Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, head of the influential Maronite Church, wants the amnesty offered in the spirit of national reconciliation, which has prevailed since domestic forces united in the wake of former premier Rafik Hariri's assassination in February
But Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said an amnesty for the former SLA collaborators would be "a big insult" to the Lebanese people.
Yesterday, up to 200 former inmates of the Khiam prison in south Lebanon went back to their cells and staged a sit-in to denounce the proposal. They carried pictures of Nasrallah and former inmates who died while in detention.
Human rights groups have claimed that the Khiam prison was a site of torture and detention without trial before it was abandoned as Israel withdrew from south Lebanon, a charge Israel denied.
Many of the 2,500-strong SLA helped Israel police a "security zone" along its northern border with Lebanon. But the SLA collapsed after Israeli forces withdrew from southern Lebanon and 2,200 surrendered to Lebanese authorities or were captured.