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14 March 1988
SPECIAL REPORT OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ON THE UNITED NATIONS
INTERIM FORCE IN LEBANON
1. The purpose of this report is to inform the security Council of developments relating to the recent kidnapping of Lieutenant Colonel William Richard Higgins, an officer of the United States of America serving with the United Nations in southern Lebanon.
2. Since January 1988, Lt. Col. Higgins has been the Chief of Observer Group Lebanon (OGL), a group of unarmed military observers of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) who are assigned to assist UNIFIL in the performance of its tasks. The observers man observation posts and maintain mobile team, which support the infantry battalions by investigating incidents, helping newly rotated units to familiarize themselves with their sectors, maintaining local contacts and arranging meetings as necessary. OGL is under the operational control of the Commander of UNIFIL.
3. On 17 February 1988, Lt. Col. Higgins Met in Tyre with a local leader of the Amal movement. On his way back to UNIFIL headquarters at Naquora he drove in convoy with two other observers, who preceded him in their vehicle. Shortly after 1400 hours and while still in the Tyre Pocket and therefore outside UNIFIL's area, the two observers briefly lost sight of Lt. Col. Higgins and tried to call him on the radio. When he did not answer, the two turned back, only to find his empty vehicle on the road about 1 kilometre north of the first UNIFIL checkpoint. Lebanese eyewitnesses told them that Lt. Col. Higgins had been abducted by armed men who had taken him towards the north in a civilian car. The actual abduction was not witnessed by any UNIFIL personnel, though a group of Fijian soldiers arrived on the scene immediately afterwards.
4. UNIFIL headquarters was alerted by radio, and the two observers returned towards Tyre to alert the detachment of the Lebanese Army stationed there, as well as Amal, which maintains checkpoints in the Tyre area, including one at Qasimiyah Bridge On the Litani River. At the same time, UNIFIL headquarters ordered the infantry units, first of all the Fijian and Ghanaian battalions, whose sectors are next to the Tyre Pocket, to make sure that Lt. Col. Higgins could not be taken through their checkpoints. Numerous additional checkpoints were established and UNIFIL increased its patrols to control movement. In particular, the Ghanaian battalion was ordered to send patrols to the Litani River to prevent any crossing on foot or by boat. During the afternoon and throughout the night, Amal also established numerous checkpoints in and near the Tyre area and conducted a large-scale search that was supported by UNIFIL helicopters as long as daylight lasted. A mechanized section of the Ghanaian battalion was dispatched to Qasimiyah Bridge to reinforce the Amal checkpoint there during the night.
5. The immediate measures outlined above were aimed at closing off possible escape routes and, above all, preventing the kidnappers from taking Lt. Col. Higgins across the Litani River. At the same time every ef fort was made to find witnesses or other persons with information which could help locate Lt. Col. Higgins. This work was mostly carried out by elements of the Amal movements with the participation of elements of the Lebanese Army and the Lebanese gendarmerie who remain in the area. UNIFIL also provided such help as was consistent with its mandate and its capabilities.
6. I issued an immediate statement expressing my profound concern at the abduction of Lt. Col. Higgins. I also instructed Mr. Marrack Goulding, Under-Secretary-General for Special Political Affairs, who was visiting the area, to return without delay to Beirut for contacts with the Lebanese authorities. The next day, 18 February, Mr. Goulding saw President Gemayel and Acting Prime Minister Hoss who both expressed their deep regret at the kidnapping and pledged their full support for efforts to find and free Lt. Col. Higgins. They indicated, however, the limits to the practical measures the authorities could take, given the conditions prevailing in the country. Mr. Goulding also met Mr. Nabih Berri, Minister of State for Southern Affairs, who heads the Amal movement. Mr. Berri promised that Amal would continue to do what it could to find Lt. Col. Higgins.
7. The searches carried out by UNIFIL over the next several days were based on information gathered by Amal or, in some cases, made available to UNIFIL. That information focused on the Fijian and Ghanaian battalion sectors. UNIFIL maintained the measures described in paragraph 4 above and carried out terrain searches with the help of tracker dogs, including the search of a large system of caves west of Aytit. Amal searched numerous houses in several villages. However, Lt. Col. Higgins could not be found. UNIFIL has since received a number of reports which suggest that Lt. Col. Higgins may now be held north of the Litani River.
8. On 19 February, the kidnappers sent to a news agency in Beirut copies of Lt. Col. Higgins' identity card and on 23 February a video tape, which shows him reading their conditions for his release.
9. I strongly condemn the abduction and continuing detention of Lt. Col. Higgins. This incident occurred while he was carrying out functions assigned to him in order to assist UNIFIL to carry out the mandate given to it by the Security Council. That mandate has the full support of the Lebanese authorities and of the local population in southern Lebanon. I am greatly concerned about the possible implications such unwarranted attacks on members of the Force could have for its effectiveness. UNIFIL, if it is to continue its efforts to restore peace in southern Lebanon, must enjoy the full confidence and support of the local population and must receive co-operation from all the governments and armed groups active there.
10. UNIFIL will maintain all possible efforts to locate Lt. Col. Higgins and secure his release. I and my senior staff will remain in contact with all parties whom I feel could be of help. Meanwhile, I extend my warmest sympathy to Lt. Col. Higgins, family during this very trying time.