Two Swiss Red Cross Workers Kidnapped in South Lebanon
SIDON, Lebanon (AP) _ Masked gunmen today kidnapped two Swiss Red Cross employees who worked distributing artificial limbs to victims of Lebanon’s civil war and drove them to a Palestinian refugee camp, police said.
The two workers were seized when they arrived at a Red Cross center outside this port 25 miles south of Beirut, police said.
Officials at the Geneva headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross condemned the kidnapping, which comes 11 months after the abduction of another Swiss Red Cross worker in Sidon.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. A Sunni Moslem militia leader indicated a radical Palestinian group was involved.
Police and the Red Cross identified the victims as Emmanuel Christen, 32, and Elio Erriquez, 23, and said both worked as orthopedic technicians at the Red Cross center, which distributed the artificial limbs to victims of the 14- year-old civil war.
The Red Cross pulled all its 31 Swiss delegates from Lebanon on Dec. 20 after the abduction of Peter Winkler, a Red Cross official in Sidon. The Swiss man was kidnapped Nov. 17, 1988 and released Dec. 16.
News reports in Switzerland and Lebanon said at the time that Winkler’s kidnappers threatened new anti-Swiss attacks, claiming the Red Cross and Swiss authorities reneged on a pledge to pay ransom for Winkler’s freedom.
The Red Cross mission returned to Lebanon Jan. 22 after all parties in Lebanon pledged it would not be attacked.
The assailants today, wearing black masks, were waiting in two cars at the entrance of the center near the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp when the relief workers’ white Peugeot car arrived, police reported.
″Christen parked the car at the center’s parking lot and climbed out, holding an artificial limb. Erriquez got out from the car’s opposite door, followed by a Lebanese ICRC employee,″ a police spokesman said.
Two men immediately leaped out of a dark-colored Mercedes, one with a pistol and the other a machine gun trained at the Red Cross men, said the spokesman, who cannot be named under standing rules.
″Christen and Erriquez immediately threw their arms up, offering no resistance. They were bundled at gunpoint into the trunk of the Mercedes, which sped off followed by the other car, loaded with armed guards,″ the spokesman said. The spokesman said the two cars headed in the direction of the camp.
The abduction was the latest in a chain that targeted relief workers with foreign humanitarian organizations in south Lebanon.
Police blamed most of the previous kidnappings in southern Lebanon on the Fatah-Revolutionary Council, the radical Palestinian guerrilla group headed by terrorist Abu Nidal. Abu Nidal is the nom de guerre of Sabri al-Banna, a former official in Yasser Arafat’s mainstream Fatah movement who split with the Palestine Liberation Organization leader in 1973.
Sidon houses the teeming Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh and the nearby town of Mieh Mieh, where Abu Nidal’s group maintains bases.
Mustafa Saad, commander of the Sunni Moslem Nasserite militia that has governed Sidon since the outbreak of Lebanon’s civil war in 1975, pointed an accusing finger at the Palestinians.
″This is an Ein el-Hilweh affair, not mine,″ Saad told reporters after a 10-minute meeting at his house with Red Cross’ south Lebanon chief delegate, Roland Sidler. Sidler would not speak with reporters.
In Geneva, Red Cross spokesman Joerg Bischof said the abductions came as ″a surprise″ following the assurance by Lebanese groups that Red Cross workers wouldn’t be attacked.
″We condemn that humanitarian workers who bring assistance to a country at war are kidnapped, because it hinders a very important work the Red Cross is doing in Lebanon,″ Bischof said.
Apart from the two Swiss abducted today, 16 Westerners, including eight Americans, are held hostage in Lebanon.
Most of them are held by pro-Iranian Shiite Moslem extremist factions. The longest held is American journalist Terry A. Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press, who was kidnapped March 16, 1985.
In Beirut today, Irish Ambassador Patrick McCabe appealed for information about Irish hostage Brian Keenan, who turned 39 in captivity two weeks ago.
McCabe, who is ambassador to both Lebanon and Iraq and based in Baghdad, came to Beirut early this week. He held meetings with commanders of the U.N. peacekeeping force in south Lebanon before conferring with Lebanese Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Farouk Abilamaa in Christian east Beirut.