24 Finnish Troops Seized in Lebanon : Militia Captures U.N. Contingent to Swap for POWs
The Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army seized 24 Finnish members of the U.N. peacekeeping force Friday and threatened to kill them one by one unless Shia Muslims released 11 captive SLA militiamen.
The SLA later released two Finnish soldiers. One returned to captivity after relaying a message from his captors.
In a separate incident, Austria’s ambassador, a U.N. official and two other people were forced to take refuge in a besieged Palestinian camp by armed Shia Muslim women but were allowed to leave uninjured.
The SLA, a Lebanese militia in southern Lebanon, threatened to execute the captured Finns unless the Shia Muslim militia Amal releases SLA members being held hostage, U.N. spokesman Francois Giuliani said.
‘No More Threats’
“The first officer was released to take their demands to us and they told him that they would kill one man every hour unless the 11 SLA prisoners were released but since then we have received no more threats,” U.N. spokesman Timur Goksell said from the headquarters of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon at the village of Naqoura.
Goksell said the second officer was released from an SLA position ringed by U.N. peacekeeping troops in the village of Qantara, six miles north of the Israeli border.
“But he was just released temporarily to carry a message and has now rejoined the others,” Goksell said.
“It was all apparently part of the continuing negotiations,” said Goksell, who refused to release details of the message the officer brought out.
‘All in Good Health’
“They (the prisoners) are being well treated and are all in good health,” he said.
“We have a team on the ground at Qantara talking to the SLA and our liaison with the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) and our liaison in New York,” said Goksell without ruling out an attempt to storm the SLA position to get the hostages out.
“We hope it doesn’t come to that but we are prepared for all eventualitie--that’s a last resort,” Goksell said.
In Washington, the State Department said U.S. diplomats had asked Israeli officials to use their influence with the SLA to secure the release of all the hostages, telling Israeli officials to “clean up your act.”
Beirut television showed film of the 11 SLA prisoners, captured during an Amal raid on Qantara, at Amal offices in the port city of Tyre.
Five of the Finnish soldiers were kidnapped by the SLA at Qantara and 19 others were seized aboard a bus at a road block near the village of Aadassiyeh, 3 1/2 miles south of of the city as they returned from furlough in Israel.
The SLA captured both groups an hour after an Amal raid, saying the Finns had handed over the 11 prisoners to the Shias.
Goksell said the leader of the SLA militiamen held by Amal was in radio contact with the SLA units in Qantara and Aadassiyeh.
“I have been in contact with the 11 held by Amal in Tyre and they are in fine health and good spirits,” he said. “They are very happy where they are and there is no question of an exchange as these are two separate incidents.”
At U.N. headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, asked visiting Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin for help in persuading the militia it supports to release the captives, Giuliani said.
In Tel Aviv, military sources said William Callaghan, commander of the U. N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) , sought the help of Uri Orr, head of Israel’s northern command, in obtaining the hostages’ release.
The village of Naqoura is located in an area controlled by the Finnish contingent of the eight-nation, 5,600-man U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon.
UNIFIL has been stationed in Lebanon since 1978 and 103 of its members have been killed in the line of duty. Giuliani said “this is the first incident of such magnitude” involving UNIFIL and the SLA.
Near the Bourj Barajneh Palestinian camp in southern Beirut, Robert Gallagher, director of the U.N. Relief and Works Administration, Austrian Ambassador George Zmidaric, 43, the UNRWA’s acting administration chief were threatened by four Shia women who demanded the release of 17 Amal prisoners.
The four men then entered the camps and radioed for help.