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Interior Ministry believes kidnapped Estonians no longer in Lebanon--Estonian news outlet reports three more arrested in connection with kidnap.

--Interior Ministry Believes Kidnapped Estonians No Longer in Lebanon

--Estonian News Outlet Reports Three More Arrested in Connection with Kidnap

Seven Estonian cyclists kidnapped in Lebanon last month may have been taken out of the country by their abductors, caretaker interior minister Ziad Baroud said on Tuesday. "We cannot tell whether they are still in Lebanon or across the border," Baroud told a press conference. "The army and the Internal Security Forces are doing their best to reach a happy end to this kidnapping." Baroud said four people had been arrested in connection with the March 23 kidnapping and that authorities had some important leads in the case. He would not elaborate. "I don't want to go into details that could harm the investigation," he said, adding that the abduction was clearly the work of professionals.

The seven men, all in their 30s and early 40s, were kidnapped at gunpoint in the eastern Bekaa Valley after entering Lebanon through Syria. A senior security official had previously told AFP that a gang of Lebanese and Syrians were involved in the abduction. Authorities believe the Estonians may have been moved to Syria, across the porous border between the two countries. A previously unheard of group last week claimed responsibility for the kidnapping in an e-mail message to a Lebanese website but authorities have not authenticated the claim. The motive for the kidnapping is unclear. Abductions have been rare in Lebanon since the end of the country's 1975-1990 civil war during which nearly 100 foreigners, mostly Americans and western Europeans, were kidnapped. Two Polish tourists were kidnapped last September, also in the Bekaa Valley, by members of a clan before being rescued by the army. The Bekaa is reputed for lawlessness, drug trafficking and feuding tribal clans.

Estonian News outlet ERR said that Lebanese security forces arrested three more people on April 5, suspected of being connected to the kidnapping. Estonia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has confirmed the news, holds that none of the detained men were directly involved in the abduction.
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Title Annotation:LEBANON-KIDNAP
Publication:The Daily Middle East Reporter (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Apr 6, 2011
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