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Swiss Diplomat Kidnapped in Beirut

January 3, 1985

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Five unidentified gunmen kidnapped the Swiss charge d’affaires as he drove through mostly Moslem west Beirut on Thursday, police said.

The car of Eric Wehrli was forced off of Corniche Boulevard in the seaside Rouche neighborhood of Beirut at about 2 p.m., police said. Wehrli was forced into a Mercedes by three of the gunmen, and two others drove off in his Volkswagen. No shots were fired, police said.

Wehrli, 45, was driving from the Swiss Embassy to his residence in west Beirut, police said.

President Amin Gemayel asked militia leaders in west Beirut to help locate and release the diplomat, state-run Beirut Radio said.

Sources in the Shiite Moslem Amal militia, the dominant militia in west Beirut, said the group ordered its members to search for Wehrli.

In Bern, the Swiss Interior Ministry formed an emergency committee headed by State Secretary Edouard Brunner to deal with the matter, spokesman Stephan Nellen told The Associated Press. He said the committee met Thursday night, but gave no details.

Meanwhile, differences between Druse and Christian militias delayed deployment of 200 Lebanese police along the coastal highway linking Beirut and Israeli-occupied southern Lebanon.

Deployment of the policemen is the first stage of a plan to reopen the highway, which has been under militia control since the last flare-up of Lebanon’s nine-year civil war last February.

Police equipped with bulldozers were to clear mines and barricades near Damour, 12 miles south of the capital. But a committee of army and police officers and militia leaders failed to agree on the locations of police posts and the removal of barricades in the road, radio reports said.

Radio stations run by the militias blamed each other for the delay, and the police spent most of the day in barracks awaiting orders to move down the highway.

The militias and the army also traded tank, artillery and small arms fire Thursday afternoon in the hills near Beirut, police said.

Authorities said a police officer serving with a disengagement force was killed by sniper fire in the Druse village of Shweifat southeast of Beirut, and that two civilians were wounded in the Christian village of Kahale.

The police operation along the coastal highway was to be followed by deployment of a 1,200-man army force, which would put government troops in place to move into southern Lebanon once Israeli forces begin withdrawing.

Israel invaded Lebanon in June 1982 and still has thousands of troops there. It has been negotiating with Lebanon over security arrangements along the border area once its troops withdraw.

The talks have bogged down over Israel’s insistance that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon have an expanded role in the area along with the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army militia. Lebanon wants its own army to control the region.

The United Nations-sponsored negotiations are to resume on Jan. 7 in the Lebanese town of Naqoura after a holiday break.

But Israel’s defense minister, Yitzhak Rabin, said in Haifa on Thursday that he doubted Lebanon would change its bargaining position.

″Judging by what I know now it doesn’t look very good that the Lebanese will respond positively to our demands,″ Rabin told reporters.

Israel has threatened to break off the talks if Lebanon rejects Israel’s demands for security arrangements it says are necessary to protect it against guerrilla attacks from southern Lebanon.

However, Rabin hinted Israel might be willing to compromise on the future of the South Lebanon Army and ″look at it as a territorial brigade to be integrated gradually by agreement into the Lebanese army.″

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