According to information held by the Foreign Ministry, an organisation has been identified that may be connected to the abduction of seven Estonian citizens. The Lebanese army and security forces are carrying out an operation in the Bekaa Valley that includes the participation of more than one thousand members of the security forces and army, the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports.
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet met with President of Lebanon Michel Sulayman, Minister of the Interior Ziad Baroud, prime ministerial candidate Najib Mikat, who is currently responsible for forming a new government, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berr, Chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces General Kahwaji, top Foreign Ministry personnel, and other officials on Monday, March 28 in Beirut. Paet also met with representatives of EU and NATO countries in Lebanon.
Foreign Minister Paet said that in every one of his meetings, the Lebanese representatives gave a clear signal that finding the seven abducted Estonian citizens and catching the perpetrators is an important priority for Lebanon. “The president, interior minister, chief of the armed forces, and others all confirmed that Lebanon is doing all it can to solve this kidnapping and free the Estonian citizens,” he asserted.
The foreign minister noted that there are still many possible versions of the event being investigated, but so far none of them have enough factual evidence. “Different versions are being investigated and the Lebanese security forces and army are continuing their operations in the area where the Estonians were abducted,” he added.
Paet said that close co-operation with Lebanon as well as our partner countries is very important.
On 23 March seven Estonian citizens were kidnapped in the city of Zahle in the eastern part of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, 53 kilometres east of Beirut.
Previous news about the case from 25.03.2011:
A group of Estonian tourists who were travelling through Bekaa Valley on their bicycles have been kidnapped in eastern Lebanon during a cycling trip, reports ERR.
After crossing the Syrian border earlier in the day, the cyclists traveled were abducted on a road in an industrial complex between Zahle and Kfar Zabed.
The Estonians were forced into two white vans without license plates by men who were armed and masked. Their bicycles were left behind and later found, BBN reports.
Foreign Minister Urmas Paet stated that during a telephone conversation today, Lebanese Foreign Minister Ali Sham confirmed that the Lebanese government is taking the abduction of Estonian citizens very seriously and is undertaking serious measures to resolve the situation.
Paet has also spoken about the incident with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. The Foreign Ministry and its representations have been in touch with diplomats of Great Britain, the United States and Poland. Estonia is grateful to the countries, organisations and individuals that have offered their help and expressed their support.
Tonight an Estonian diplomat will arrive in Beirut, whose task is to maintain contact on-site and exchange information with the Lebanese ministries and authorities as well as with the embassies of NATO and EU countries there.
The Foreign Ministry has been in contact with the families of all the kidnapped citizens and will continue to be in contact with them and pass along information.
The crisis commission will continue working until the situation is resolved.
If we obtain any new information, we will announce it immediately.
Currently the ministry does not know the identities of the kidnappers nor the motives for the kidnapping.
An interdepartmental crisis commission led by Foreign Minister Urmas Paet has been formed.
According to ERR, after capturing the seven tourists, the three cars without license plates – two minivans and one Mercedes sedan – allegedly drove to the village of Kfar Zabad that hosts the base of the militant PFLP-GC group. This has given rise to the speculations that PFLP-GC captured the men to trade them for a member of the group recently detained in Kiev, Ukraine. However, PFLP-GC has denied any involvement in the abduction.
Source: BBN and Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Estonian Public Broadcasting
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Friday, March 25, 2011
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