November 19, 1991
HEADLINE: PEREZ DE CUELLAR HOPES FOR WORD ON MISSING ISRAELI AIRMAN
BYLINE: By Anthony Goodman
DATELINE: UNITED NATIONS, Nov 19
Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar said on Tuesday he hoped for information soon about missing Israeli air force navigator Ron Arad but stressed this was not linked to the expected release shortly of remaining Western hostages in Lebanon.
"They are two different questions. They are not inter-related," he told Reuters on his arrival at U.N. headquarters.
Referring to the release on Monday of British hostage Terry Waite and American captive Thomas Sutherland, he said: "In this particular case they have been freed with no counterpart, as it were. And I hope to do the same thing for the others," he said, alluding to at least five remaining Western hostages.
Perez de Cuellar said the question of information about missing Israelis -- Arad and three other servicemen still not accounted for -- was related to the freeing of Lebanese prisoners, more than 300 of whom are being held by Israel and its Lebanese militia allies.
Asked if he had received any information about Arad, who was shot down over the Lebanese port of Sidon in 1986, the secretary-general said: "Not so far. Not so far. I hope that I will have soon."
Pressed to say when he hoped to have word about the Israeli navigator, he said: "We continue in touch with the groups in order to get as much information on Arad as possible. And I am sure that the government of Israel and mainly the family of Arad is anxious to know about him.
"We need as well some information about some other missing persons -- there are just three altogether," he added, apparently referring to a tank crew missing since Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon -- Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz and Zvi Feldman.
In Jeruslaem, Israeli hostage negotiator Uri Slonim said his government would release Arab prisoners if it received word about Arad. He ruled out any unilateral Israeli gestures.
Israel freed 51 Arab prisoners and returned the bodies of nine guerrillas on September 11, shortly before British hostage Jack Mann was freed, and released another 15 Lebanese on October 21, hours before American hostage Jesse Turner was freed.
Perez de Cuellar said his aide, Giandomenico Picco, who has been directly involved in the recent hostage releases, had left the Middle East and would meet him shortly in Europe. The secretary-general leaves later on Tuesday for an 11-day trip to Italy, Spain and France.
Asked when he expected the next release of Western hostages, who include three Americans and two Germans, he replied: "As I said, I have a kind of a promise -- a promise I would say -- to have all of them free before Christmas. But of course a lot of work has to be done in order to agree on the details."
Still being held are: Americans Terry Anderson, the chief Middle East correspondent of The Associated Press; Joseph James Cicippio, the deputy comptroller of American University in Beirut; and Alann Steen, a professor of mass comunications at Beirut University College; and two Germans who worked for a now-disbanded relief organisation, Heinrich Struebig and Thomas Kemptner.
Struebig and Kemptner, who disappeared in south Lebanon in May 1989, are believed to be held by relatives of two Lebanese brothers, Mohammad Ali Hamadi and Abbas Hamadi, serving jail terms in Germany.
Asked whether his hopes for the speedy release of remaining hostages included the two Germans, about whom little has been heard, he replied:
"I am working on the two Germans very, very much. It is a little more difficult than the Americans which are still left. But I keep working on the Germans. For me, as you know, I don't make differences between nationalities. It is a humanitarian effort."