Relatives hail Estonian's release in Lebanon
The relatives of seven Estonian tourists whose four-month kidnap ordeal in Lebanon ended Thursday hailed their release, while officials thanked France and other allies for helping win their freedom.
"Our father, sons, husbands and brothers are free! These four months were long and exhausting," the men's relatives said in a joint statement.
"We thank everyone here in Estonia and elsewhere for their support. It helped. We thank Lebanese people and Lebanese state and also authorities of the many countries that helped free our loved ones," they said.
"But our endless thanks go to our own state and to all those who dealt with the release of our kidnapped relatives daily," they said.
The men, in their 30s and early 40s, were kidnapped on March 23 while on a cycling holiday in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley and held by a previously unknown group.
Estonia turned to fellow European Union members and NATO allies, notably France, for help because the nation of 1.3 million has only a small diplomatic presence in the Middle East.
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet on Thursday lauded Paris.
"We are very thankful to France for the enormous assistance we received," he said at a French embassy reception in Tallinn marking France's annual Bastille Day.
"It is symbolic that the Estonians were released on July 14, when we celebrate France's national day," he added.
The men were being cared for in the French embassy in Lebanon.
Paet said he was heading to Lebanon later Thursday, with a special flight bringing the men home Friday.
"Estonia thanks all its partners. We thank Lebanon, France, Germany, Turkey and also the representatives of many other states for their input," Paet was quoted as saying by the ministry.
The seven kidnapped men had already been identified as Jaan Jagomagi, Kalev Kaosaar, Martin Metspalu, Madis Paluoja, Andre Pukk, Priit Raistik and August Tillo.
"I've already talked to my son and both the health and mood of all the men is very good," Kaosaar's father Juri told the daily Postimees.
Metspalu's father Andres told the Delfi news portal he felt "enormous joy and relief".
"If you remember that some are held hostage for years, and ours for just under four months, all went well," he said.
Pukk's mother Maarika told the daily Ohtuleht: "It feels like I have had a new child."
"He called and said 'Hi, Mum,' and it was very hard to speak. There were lots of tears, but they are tears of joy. I never lost the hope but there were very hard moments also," she added.
© 2011 AFP