Lebanese Christian Military Leader Pardoned

A Lebanese Christian military leader who had been jailed for 11 years for alleged crimes during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war has been granted amnesty by the nation's parliament.

Samir Geagea, 53, a Maronite Christian, will be released by early next week after the amnesty bill is signed by President Emile Lahoud. Geagea has been in solitary confinement since 1994.

The group Amnesty International had alleged that he had been mistreated while in custody in Beirut.

Supporters in his hometown of Besharre in northern Lebanon were overjoyed, firing rounds from assault rifles moments after the announcement.

On Monday, the parliament cleared him of a '94 bomb attack on a church that killed 11. Initially he had been given four death sentences, but they had been commuted to life in prison. The alleged crimes during the war included the killing of Sunni Muslim Prime Minister Rashid Karameh, according to Agence France Presse.

Geagea is the only former warlord from the civil war to have been jailed for alleged crimes. He headed a Christian militia called the Lebanese Forces, which became a political party after the civil war.

In addition, the parliament also voted by a show of hands to grant amnesty to Sunni Muslim militants who had been charged with attacking Lebanese army soldiers and planning attacks on Western targets.

The amnesty was made possible because recent parliamentary elections were won by an anti-Syrian majority. The most recent elections in June were the first in the past 29 years without a Syrian military presence in the nation.

Geagea's wife Strida, a recently elected member of Parliament, was thankful.

"I want to thank my fellow MPs ... who expressed the will of the Lebanese people to turn the page of the war for good and to move to comprehensive national reconciliation," she said, according to Reuters. More than 100 of the 128 MPs voted for the bill.

During the war, Samir Geagea was considered by many as the only leader strong enough to protect Christians in the country.

However, many Muslims and some Christians saw him as an Israeli-backed warlord aiming to retain Maronite dominance in Lebanon, according to Reuters.