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Sunday, July 17, 2011

An-Nahar Newspaper: The Price Of A Happy Ending

[Administrator's Note: Octavia is now writing articles for An-Nahar Newspaper each week and we will provide them here after they are printed.]

There is no doubt that the saga of seven Estonian cyclists ended well with all of them alive, seemingly unharmed and now in the safety of their homes among their loved ones.

It is known that the seven arrived in Damascus and crossed the Syrian border overland to Lebanon in March. They were kidnapped while cycling in the Bekaa Valley and held incommunicado for four months before they were released in the Bekaa again this past week. Although it is not clear where they spent the four months in captivity, the Estonian foreign ministry has said that the first of three videos the kidnappers released of the seven men was uploaded to the Internet in Damascus. Rumors abound that a ransom was paid to secure the release of the hostages but no one has confirmed this information yet.

What did not end well in this story is the truth and government transparency. The sad ending was reserved to a Lebanese government that has nothing to say more than congratulatory words to their Estonian counterpart and a series of useless clichés such as “no comment, unconfirmed information, lack of evidence, too early to say” and so on and so forth. To be completely honest, one can decipher the main course of events by using common sense and available data. We already know more about what happened to the Estonians than any Minister’s vagueness or government cautious release of information has provided. What we do not know and need them to tell us is who were the kidnappers and who provided them protection all this time. Was there a political motivation behind the abduction or was it just about money all along?

Several governments were involved in negotiating the release of the Estonians but at least one government served as host to the seven and provided protection to the abductors directly or indirectly. Yes, a ransom must have been paid to a group or organization under the watchful eye of at least one government and with the blessing and involvement of several others. Yes, this smells foul and we are made to believe that “some arrests were made” in the case and that “an investigation is under way.”

What I personally want from the Lebanese government, since the abduction and release were made on its territory, is to make the abductors’ host country known and hold its authorities accountable for bringing the criminals to justice. The Lebanese government should also make it known who in Lebanon spearheaded or covered for this kidnapping and provide a good lesson to prevent others from following suit. Otherwise, this can potentially become a business as we’ve seen in Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein, or during Lebanon’s civil war.

Criminals and terrorists have become tech savvy; keen on taping their victims and uploading their videos on line. Thus, in the past ten years, the difference between a happy ending and a sad one in kidnapping has often been an audio and/or image. In sad endings there is moaning of pain and death associated with beheading, dismembering or any of the other savage practices criminals have mastered over the years. On the other hand, happy endings involve cheers, smiles and photo opportunities from balconies or podiums. A blurred truth separates one outcome from the other.

Thick smoke stands between us and the truth; it is visible to all but bluntly and arrogantly ignored by officials.

If Lebanon is not careful, it risks becoming a fertile ground for this kind of tourist terrorism. Prime Minister Mikati should know that this is an opportunity to show the world what kind of government he runs. Will he allow Lebanon to become a lawless alley for regional terror and under-the-table deals, or is his government alert to all threats and can protect its citizens along with millions of tourists who would like to visit and enjoy this beautiful country but worry they might become targets and their lives might depend on who’s willing to pay, what sum and to whom to save their lives?

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