Group appeals to West to free sons
Solide sends signature-covered flags to UN, U.S., france
Both Damascus and Beirut insist there are no Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails
By James Fitz-Morris -Special to The Daily Star
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
BEIRUT: Leaders of the United Nations, the U.S. and France are receiving large Lebanese flags covered in signatures.
"These flags have a message for [UN Secretary General] Kofi Annan, [U.S. President] George W. Bush and [French President] Jacques Chirac; a message to help the mothers whose sons are still detained in Syrian jails," says Ghazi Aad, general director of Support for Lebanese Detainees and Exiles (Solide).
Solide has spent the last two weeks holding demonstrations and touring university campuses collecting signatures on 5-meter-long flags in an effort to raise awareness on the issue. In a letter pleading for help, Violette Nassif says: "Years have passed without me knowing the fate of my son." Nassif says her son, Johnny, was 18 years old when he was taken with other members of the Lebanese Army by Syrian forces on Oct. 13, 1990 She says she traveled to Syria on numerous occasions in an effort to see her son but stopped trying in 1991 "for fear she was putting the lives of those helping her in danger."
The only word she has received is from Lebanese prisoners who have been released and confirm others are still being held.
"It is a short message," says Aad "These mothers deserve to know the fate of their sons."
He adds: "It's not just the issue of those arrested, there are the forced disappearances as well - there are those who were unlawfully taken by Syria and we know nothing of their fate."
Solide also wants to secure the return of those in exile, it says up to 8500 people left the country either by force or because they were threatened.
So far Solide, and other groups with the same goal, have been frustrated with the response they are getting. The International Committee of the Red Cross recently turned down a request to pass along letters from a Canadian group to Lebanese prisoners in Syria, stating: "the Red Cross does not have access to Syrian prisons."
Solide activist Claude Hajjar calls that unacceptable: "No one has access; not mothers, not the Red Cross, not lawyers. You have to find a way. You can't say, 'What can we do? We don't have access.'"
The group wants to tie the issue of the prisoners in with the UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and is asking Annan to address this in his next report due out in April.
"The UN Security Council passed a resolution for the Kuwaiti business - when Iraq took 600 hundred prisoners at the end of the war," says Aad "and now they can pass another resolution on this."
Hajjar says: "The liberation of Lebanon doesn't start with elections or conferences. The real liberation starts with the liberation of all Lebanese in Syrian prisons."
Both the Syrian and Lebanese governments insists there are no such prisoners.
Nejib Friji, the chief of the UN Information Center House, said that "while the flags themselves won't be sent to the secretary general's office, the 'message and content' will be passed along to both Annan and Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights."
The French Embassy in Beirut also says it "has taken note of the message and will pass it along to Paris."
Solide is still trying to organize a meeting with the officials at the U.S. Embassy.