BEIRUT: Minister for the Displaced Alice Shabtini Friday issued a decision for Druze residents to evacuate homes belonging to Christians who were forced to leave the Chouf village of Brih during Lebanon’s Civil War.
The decision is part of reconciliation efforts between the Christians and the Druze of Chouf given momentum following the 2001 historic visit paid by former Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir to the mountainous region.
In her decision, Shabtini also tasked the “Central Fund for the Displaced to pay compensation owed to the occupants and tasked the Office of Operations for the Displaced in Mount Lebanon to execute the decision in coordination with the ministry in order to hand over the houses to their rightful owners.”
The reconciliation plan seeks to bring back Christians of Brih who were displaced during battles that took place between the militias of the predominantly Druze Progressive Socialist Party and the Lebanese Forces in Chouf in 1983. Brih was originally inhabited by Christians and Druze.
Brih, one of the last villages where reconciliation has yet to take place, will also see the establishment of two churches to further encourage Christians to return to their original homes.
“Although the ministry and the president are doing their best to turn this black page in history, nothing can compensate the people who were displaced and lost so much of their property,” Walid Ghayyad, a spokesperson for Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, told The Daily Star. “But we need to open a new page.”
He acknowledged that many Christians had by now established their lives elsewhere, making it tricky for them to return to the Chouf.
Ghayyad said the patriarch had followed up on the construction of the churches and helped resolve last-minute hitches that could have proved ruinous.
In 2012, Rai visited Brih and met with Druze leader MP Walid Jumblatt, the head of the PSP. The patriarch said that in order to complete the reconciliation process, all the displaced needed to return to their hometowns, without exception.
Ghayyad said that the president had also worked relentlessly in order to finalize the case of Brih before his term ended on May 25.
Rai met with Shabtini later Friday and she briefed him on her decision to bring back Brih residents and hand over their property. She also invited the patriarch to attend a ceremony to lay the foundation stones for the two churches.
“We are here to take the patriarch’s blessing and take his instructions into consideration,” Shabtini told reporters after the meeting.
“The meeting was also aimed at inviting the patriarch to attend the ceremony [of the churches] under the patronage of President Michel Sleiman ... an event the residents of Brih have long been waiting for.”