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International Committee of the Red Cross says 17,000 Lebanese missing since start of 1975-90 Civil War

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Wednesday that there have been around 17,000 missing people in Lebanon since the start of the Civil War in 1975. "This country has suffered enough since 1975 and throughout the Arab-Israeli conflict and there are nearly 17,000 missing people in Lebanon," said Tracing Agency officer for the ICRC Christine Rechdane Wednesday.

Rechdane was speaking from the ICRC offices in Beirut where it celebrated the "International day of the Missing," by discussing the issue of the missing Lebanese in Syrian and Israeli prisons.

She said that since 1975 the Red Cross Committee has been receiving applications containing personal information about missing individuals from their families.

Lebanon has many mass graves but the remains are mixed, making it hard to identify individuals, Rechdane said, explaining the obstacles faced by the ICRC in tackling the issue.

"Political and military barriers, especially those which eradicate humanity, have forbidden us from dealing with many cases as well," Rechdane said.

She added that the first condition for the ICRC to comp-lete its tasks in Lebanon is the political harmony and agreement that is "clearly absent at the time."

The ICRC sends its recommendations to the government and works on capacity building. "We can't work without the conformation of the government" Rechdane said. Perhaps the Lebanese government is busy with its political, economic and social priorities at the meantime, she added.

"We just ask the Lebanese government for more interest and more involvement in the issue" she said.

The ICRC also requests new legislations in Lebanon to protect the mass graves and preserve the remains which would help in uncovering the identities of the victims and consequently revealing the fate of some of the missing.

In its progress report of the missing, the ICRC stated "basic guidelines" around the management of the remains in armed conflicts and internal violence and the use of DNA, in addition to practical guides for forensic practitioners.

Moreover, the ICRC has been visiting Israeli detention centers in both Lebanon and Israel since 1995 and reporting back to the families of the missing news about their relatives.

Rechdane said that the ICRC in Lebanon is working on preventing persons from getting unaccounted for during armed conflict and on enhancing the concern about the issue among government authorities, and the local society.

She added that families of the missing have the "right to know" where there relatives are, according to the international humanitarian law.

ICRC has an exclusive humanitarian mission of protecting the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal conflict.

"Our main concern is the humanitarian division of the issue, and we care most for the distressed families of the missing" Rechdane said.

The ICRC responds to the needs of families that lost contact with their relatives during armed conflicts or internal violence as it stresses on the need to reinforce the implementation of the international humanitarian law.

According to the ICRC reports, the material and psychological needs of the families awaiting clarification of their relatives' fate should be addressed by the concerned authorities.

Beirut 30-08-2007
Redaction
The Daily Star



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