Tallinn confirms seven cyclists freed in Lebanon

14th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Estonia's foreign ministry confirmed Thursday that seven of its citizens held for almost four months in Lebanon had been freed and were being cared for in the French embassy in Beirut.

"All seven Estonian citizens kidnapped in Lebanon in March were freed early Thursday morning," ministry spokeswoman Minna-Liina Lind told AFP.

"The seven Estonians are at the embassy of France at the moment," Lind said.

"The operation to free them was carried out in cooperation with the Estonians, Lebanese and other partners. All of them are in good health."

"We are currently organising their transport to Estonia," she added.

Reacting to the news, Juri Kaosaar, father of kidnap victim Kalev Kaosaar, told the Delfi news portal: "All the men are OK, that's all I can say."

Earlier Thursday, a Lebanese police officer who had asked to remain anonymous told AFP all seven had been freed in the town of Arsal, in the eastern Bekaa Valley.

The men, all in their 30s, were kidnapped on March 23 while on a cycling holiday in the same region, after crossing from neighbouring Syria.

The abductors -- believed to be a previously unknown fundamentalist group called Haraket Al-Nahda Wal-Islah (Movement for Renewal and Reform) -- had reportedly demanded a ransom but Lebanese authorities said they could not confirm that.

The Estonians were shown appealing for help in videos posted on the Internet in April and May, but did not present any demands on their captors' behalf.

A third video was emailed to several relatives in June, but not made public.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet spent the months following the abductions shuttling back and forth to Beirut for talks with the authorities there.

Estonia also turned to fellow European Union members and NATO allies for logistical support, notably France.

© 2011 AFP

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