Summary of EMFA press conference, 24 March 2011
Good morning. Yesterday at around 15:30 (GMT) seven Estonian citizens were kidnapped near the city of Zahlé in the eastern part of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. This location is 53 kilometres east of Beirut.
Currently we do not know the identities of the kidnappers nor the motives for the kidnapping. All discussion of possible motives that can be found in some international publications at the moment is speculation. As of right now there is no official confirmation of the reasons or motive for this act. Last night we formed a crisis commission that began working right away. The commission consists of people from the Foreign Ministry and the Interior Ministry. The commission will continue working until the situation is resolved. Our goal is to find a quick and positive resolution to this case so that the kidnapped individuals will be freed as soon as possible.
The Foreign Ministry is sending one of its diplomats to Lebanon today, who will serve as our contact person there. Last night my colleagues and I spoke to representatives of various public authorities in Lebanon in order to exchange information and establish effective communication in order to deal with this matter. We are also communicating and co-operating with representatives from member states of the European Union and NATO.
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.
At this moment that is all there is to say about this event. Clearly this is a complicated situation. The Foreign Ministry and the other Estonian public authorities that are working on this matter are doing everything they can to find and quick and positive solution.
Who are the Estonians that were kidnapped?
As the media has already reported, it was a group of cyclists on a bicycle tour of the region.
Who are the members of the group?
We know the names of all the group members. However, at this stage of resolving the situation we cannot divulge the names.
If Estonia is asked for a ransom, how will we respond?
Speaking about one response or another is premature at the moment, since we have yet to clarify the motive for the kidnapping.
Can you specify how many men and women were in the group?
Were they travelling around the region as tourists or as professionals?
No, they are not professionals.
How old are they?
They are people who are able to cover long distances on bicycles.
Do you know or can you say whether one of the cyclists was familiar with the region, whether he had been there before?
I don’t know. Like we said yesterday, these people had unfortunately not registered themselves with the Foreign Ministry. Our recommendation has been, is, and always will be for people who are travelling, especially to a complicated region like this one, to register themselves with the Foreign Ministry. When it comes to Lebanon we have had a travel advisory in effect for months recommending against travel to that country.
What kind of help have the Lebanese authorities offered? What have they already done on-site?
We were in constant contact with the Lebanese authorities late last night and early this morning. The kidnapping is being handled the same way everywhere and police activity is taking place to resolve the case, free the victims and catch the perpetrators.
How much will the diplomat who is being sent there be able to do?
It is important to the Foreign Ministry that we have a contact person on-site. Estonia does have an honorary consul, but there is no embassy in Lebanon. Therefore we hope that our diplomat will arrive there by tonight. The diplomat’s task will be 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.
Is the diplomat going there from Estonia, or Egypt, or where?
Who is it?
We will give the name when the visa formalities have been finalised. Currently the visa formalities are still underway.
Have the Lebanese police gotten in contact with the kidnappers?
It’s not wise to make public all of the tactical police matters involved in this case. I’m going to leave this question unanswered for now.
The people who were kidnapped – what are their occupations? Do they all work together, are they businessmen? Are they some kind of labourers?
Sharing the personal details of the kidnapping victims will not help to resolve this case. The members of the group work in various fields.
What about the Ukraine matter, is that just information pollution?
There is no confirmation that there were also Ukrainians among those kidnapped.
You can listen to the recording of the press conference here: http://www.vm.ee/?q=node/10615...
In conclusion: If we receive new information, you will be notified immediately. If necessary we will hold a briefing.
Estonian cyclists kidnapped in Lebanon