Amnesty urges Lebanon to trace civil war missing

The outbreak of Lebanon`s 1975 civil war is commemorated on April 13.

Last Updated: Apr 14, 2011, 08:50 AM IST

Beirut: Amnesty International urged Lebanese authorities on Thursday to investigate the fate of thousands of people who disappeared during the 1975-1990 civil war and are believed dead or held in Syria.

The appeal came on the 36th anniversary of the outbreak of the sectarian bloodshed that left more than 150,000 people dead.

"It really is high time that the Lebanese authorities took steps towards bringing this very painful episode to a close," said Malcolm Smart, Middle East and North Africa director.

"Both the President and the council of ministers pledged action but as yet no concrete steps have been taken," Smart said.

"What is urgently needed now is an independent commission of inquiry, one that includes among its members representatives of the families of the missing."

The London-based group also called for the collection of DNA from the families of the missing so that it can be compared with DNA gathered from the remains of those killed in the conflict.

The outbreak of Lebanon`s 1975 civil war is commemorated on April 13, the day a bus carrying Palestinian refugees came under fire on the outskirts of Beirut.

The attack was believed to be in retaliation for the killing of members of the Christian Phalange Party outside a church in the same area.

The war, which initially pitted leftist and Palestinian factions against right-wing Christians, quickly escalated into a free-for-all sectarian bloodbath that saw Syria and Israel deploy their troops across the country.

Families of some of Lebanon`s missing still insist they were detained and remain in Syria, which claims it no longer holds any Lebanese political prisoners.

Amineh Abed al-Husri is among the hundreds of Lebanese mothers who for decades have demanded the truth about what happened to their children.

Her son disappeared from Beirut in 1986 and the 78-year-old believes he was handed over to the Syrian authorities.

But her information ends there.

"I want my son back. We all want our sons back -- even if it is in a coffin," Husri told Amnesty. "Maybe he is dead, I don`t know. But if I have his body, I would like to bury him next to his father."

Syrian troops entered Lebanon in 1976 and withdrew 29 years later in the wake of the February 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri, father of outgoing premier Saad Hariri.

Although the two countries officially established diplomatic ties in 2008, the fate of Lebanon`s missing remains a contested issue.

Many local non-governmental organisations continue to hold Lebanon responsible for uncovering the fate of those missing, a promise made by President Michel Sleiman in his 2008 inauguration speech.

"How can it be that someone who was trying to defend the land of his country is now ignored by his government?" said Sonia Eid.

Her son, Jihad Eid, was a 20-year-old soldier in the Lebanese Army when he went missing on October 13, 1990, shortly before the end of the war.

Eid says she has proof that her son is alive in a Syria detention centre, and told Amnesty that Lebanese military intelligence officers visited Jihad in 1995 in Syria.

"I am sure that he will return," she said.

Bureau Report