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France Says It’s Available to Act as Protector of Beirut Hostages

Times Staff Writer

The French government, evidently responding to a proposal by Nabih Berri, the Shia Muslim militia leader in Lebanon, described itself Wednesday as available to act as a possible protector of the American hostages in Beirut.

External Relations Minister Roland Dumas, a lawyer with close ties to the Arab world, has taken personal charge of France’s role in the crisis, the government announced.

The French statement, issued by a spokesman for the External Relations Ministry, came after Berri suggested earlier in the day, in Beirut, that he would turn over the 39 remaining hostages to a foreign embassy in Beirut--if its government promised to keep them in Lebanon until Israel completed its release of more than 700 Arab prisoners. Berri mentioned the French and Swiss embassies as possibilities.

France did not say whether it has accepted or endorsed the plan but stated that it “is always available when it is a question of protecting human lives and preventing suffering.”

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“Officially,” the spokesman said later, “no one has asked us anything. So we have not proposed anything.”

4 Kidnaped Frenchmen

There were doubts among some private analysts in Paris that France would be called upon to play any kind of role in the crisis. France, according to this view, is looked on as an interested party since it is demanding the release of four kidnaped Frenchmen in Shia hands.

In its statement, the ministry said that France “has condemned and continues to condemn the assaults that have victimized and continue to victimize the hostages of Beirut,” and that France reaffirms “that all the hostages have a natural right, inalienable and unconditional, to regain their liberty.”

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The 62-year-old Dumas, who has often been assigned delicate political and diplomatic missions by his friend, President Francois Mitterrand, delayed a trip to Bonn on Wednesday, according to the ministry, so he “could communicate with the different concerned parties.” The ministry did not say who they were.

Earlier in the day, according to an official government statement, Dumas briefed Mitterrand and the Cabinet on the situation in Lebanon, discussing both the American hostages and the four French hostages. Two French diplomats were kidnaped in March and a French journalist and a French researcher were kidnaped in May. All four are reportedly in the hands of Shia Muslims.

Different Routes

Dumas said that France and the United States have to follow different ways of gaining their citizens’ freedom.

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“There is no connection between the two situations,” Dumas told Mitterrand and the Cabinet, the statement said. “We do not know too much about whether we are dealing with the same groups. The conditions are different. The people with whom we are talking are not the same.”

In a Beirut news conference Tuesday, though, Shia leader Berri said an unidentified caller told him that the two Frenchmen abducted May 22 will also be released when the American hostages are freed. Berri said that he asked the caller for the release of 11 missing foreigners in Beirut, including the other two Frenchmen and seven Americans previously kidnaped, but was told that the caller’s group was not holding any of the others.


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