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UN to let Israel, Lebanon view videotape sought in connection with abductions

UN to let Israel, Lebanon view videotape sought in connection with abductions

A senior United Nations official said today that the UN would provide Israel and Lebanon with the opportunity to view a videotape sought by the Israeli authorities in connection with the abduction of three Israeli soldiers last year.

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, said the decision came in response to a request by Israel for material which could shed light on the 7 October 2000 abduction which, at the time, was condemned by the UN as a "serious breach of the Blue Line" of Israeli withdrawal.

The tape in question was not filmed on the day of the abduction, nor was it filmed at the location of the abduction, Mr. Guéhenno stressed. "It was filmed on the morning of the 8th of October on the road where the two vehicles allegedly used in the abduction were found. It shows the two abandoned vehicles and their contents, both in close ups and more general views. It then shows the efforts of UNIFIL (the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), with a tow truck, to tow away one of the vehicles. Its last segment shows the interception of the vehicles by armed Lebanese, allegedly from the Hezbollah. In our view, nothing in that tape sheds light on the circumstances of the abduction or on the condition of the abductees."

Reviewing the exchanges between Israeli and UN officials on the issue in recent months, Mr. Guéhenno recalled that during a meeting on 27 June in Tel Aviv, the Israeli Minister of Defence had told the Secretary-General's Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed Larsen, that such a tape existed. "Mr Roed-Larsen denied it, because, like [the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Southern Lebanon, Staffan] de Mistura, he was not involved in the review of the tape and, I would like to emphasize, had no knowledge of its existence," Mr. Guéhenno said.

"As soon as we learned that Mr Roed-Larsen had unwittingly misled the Israeli Minister of Defence, I called the Israeli Ambassador to make clear the facts and to make sure that the frank and open relations that the United Nations has had with Israel would continue," he added.

The Under-Secretary-General pointed out that the UN has a duty to protect the confidentiality of its internal documents and to consider the security of its personnel. "At the same time, we understand the plight and anxiety of the families who want to know as much as possible," he said.

In view of these conflicting considerations, "and although we continue to believe that the tape does not add anything to what has already been made public about the circumstances of the abduction, and does not shed light on the condition of the abductees, we have decided to offer to the Government of Israel and to Lebanese authorities an opportunity to view this tape, but with faces of non-UN personnel obscured," Mr. Guéhenno said.

"We believe that the humanitarian considerations put forward by the Government of Israel warrant this exception to the principle of confidentiality, but that security considerations also require that some precautions be taken," he emphasized.