Britain Bars Deal to Free Beirut Hostage

Associated Press

Britain appealed Sunday to the Beirut kidnapers of British journalist Alec Collett to release him but said it will not deal for his freedom.

Timothy Renton, a minister of state at the Foreign Office, said Collett's release would do more to advance the Palestinian cause "than anything else."

In a 10-minute videotaped message released Saturday, Collett, 63, appealed to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to free Arab prisoners held in Britain so that his Muslim captors would let him go after nine months in captivity.

Kidnaped March 25

The message, sent to Beirut's independent An Nahar newspaper, was the first word from the New York-based writer since May. Collett was on a writing assignment for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees when gunmen kidnaped him in Beirut on March 25.

In a British Broadcasting Corp. radio interview, Renton expressed delight at knowing that Collett "is alive and well" but rejected any deal with the captors.

"There is a very important sentence in the message, which is that his captors want to end this issue quietly," he said.

"It is on that basis that I would like to use this opportunity to appeal to them to release Mr. Collett and the French and American hostages they are holding, because they are interested in promoting the Palestinian cause," Renton said.

Collett said on the videotape that Thatcher's Conservative government has been "irresponsible" in ignoring previous messages from his captors.

He appealed for the release of an unspecified number of Arabs and Muslims now being held in British prisons. He did not identify them, but recent Arab newspaper reports linked his kidnaping with three men convicted in London for the attempted assassination of Israeli Ambassador Shlomo Argov in June, 1982.

The Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims has claimed responsibility for kidnaping Collett, accusing him of spying for the United States and Israel. But it has not made any demands until now.

A Foreign Office spokesman said Renton's statement is consistent with Britain's policy of not making deals with terrorists.

Both Church of England envoy Terry Waite, who is in Lebanon trying to negotiate the freedom of American hostages, and Britain's ambassador in Beirut, John Gray, have appealed to Collett's captors to contact them.

Acting for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert A.K. Runcie, Waite was out of touch for the second day Sunday as he pursued his mission in secrecy.

The Americans are held by a radical Muslim group calling itself Islamic Jihad (Islamic Holy War), which demands the release of 17 Arabs imprisoned for terrorist acts in Kuwait. Six Americans are missing; of those, four have written to Runcie to ask his help.

Muslim terrorists are also holding four French citizens hostage in Lebanon.

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