Still No Contact with Kidnappers as Diplomat Arrives in Lebanon ({{commentsTotal}})

The site of the kidnapping
The site of the kidnapping Source: Photo: Reuters/Scanpix

The Foreign Affairs Minister said authorities have still not been contacted by the kidnappers of seven Estonian tourists in Lebanon.

"We still have no information about who the kidnappers are and what their motive is [...] There have been no public or more discreet messages from anyone," Foreign Minister Urmas Paet told ETV.

The Lebanese army has been busy listening in on telephone conversations, and searching houses near the Syrian border, reported the Daily Star.  "Lebanon is taking the situation very seriously. I spoke with Lebanon's Interior Minister last night, this morning I spoke with the Foreign Minister," Paet told ETV. "Lebanon immediately launched a response to find those people. Their choppers have combed the territory from the air, without results unfortunately. For Lebanon, this is the first kidnapping in a long while, and it is a blow to the country's reputation."

Estonia's consul in Lebanon Sami Kamouh told Eesti Päevaleht that the army is using helicopters and probing through video material from street security cameras, which caught the abduction on tape. Kamouh said it is possible to distinguish the faces of the Estonians, but the kidnappers were masked. Kamouh traveled to the site of the kidnapping to question local residents. "Tell your president not to worry. I will do everything in my power," he said.

Estonia's foreign minister has consulted with the EU's foreign policy representative Catherine Ashton, the foreign affairs ministers of France, Turkey and Italy, as well as diplomats from the UK, US and Poland. "Very many countries and organizations have offered help, for which we are very grateful," said Paet.

Last night, the foreign ministry sent a diplomat to Lebanon to represent Estonia in the crisis. "Our diplomat has now safely arrived in Beirut and we have been in contact with him this morning," spokeswoman Minna-Liina Lind to ETV. "Unfortunately we are in the same situation as yesterday morning and there have been no pivotal events nor has there been any clarity into the motives."

Meanwhile, the the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been in touch with the families of the victims. According to Postimees, the Estonians abducted in eastern Lebanon are Jaan Jagomägi (born 1975) Kalev Käosaar (born 1976), Madis Paluoja (born 1970), August Tillo (born 1970), Priit Raistik (born 1973), Andre Pukk (born 1977) and Martin Metspalu (born 1977).

The Estonians arrived in Lebanon on March 15 for a cycling trip. They headed to Syria three days later, and returned to Lebanon on March 23, crossing the border at 16:00 local time. The exact time of the kidnapping is not known. Kamouh said the abduction took place five minutes after the Estonians had crossed the border, but several foreign news agencies have reported, attributing local authorities as sources, that the victims were seized at 17:30.

The site of the kidnapping is located 53 kilometers from Beirut, in an industrial area near the town of Zahle, the third biggest city in Lebanon, popular among tourists for its restaurants and wine cellars. Zahle is a mostly Christian town. The region is, however, known for organized crime and drug trafficking.

Media reported on March 24 that Lebanese security authorities said the kidnapped Estonians had probably been taken to Syria. However, Estonia's Foreign Affairs Ministry has not found any basis for the assertion. Kamouh also disagreed. "I don't think they're in Syria. I think they are still in Lebanon's territory. The Lebanese army told me that they are probably still here," he told Eesti Päevaleht.

 

Ott Tammik



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