BAALBEK, Lebanon — The bound body of a Dutch Jesuit priest who vanished in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley 18 days ago was found Monday near a village north of Baalbek, Lebanese security sources said.
They said the body of Father Nicholas Kluiters, 43, was discovered in a 200-foot-deep pit on the outskirts of Nabha, near where his abandoned car was found. The priest's body was badly decomposed and his hands were tied behind his back, they said.
A piece of paper bearing the name "Vengeance Party"--a previously unknown group--was found in the car.
A Jesuit spokesman in Beirut said that although the body was unrecognizable, a Jesuit who inspected it recognized the priest's clothes.
"Unfortunately, we are now certain it is him," the spokesman said. "He had been kidnaped on March 14 and was probably killed the same day."
Kluiters disappeared while returning from Hermel in the northern tip of the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley to his parish in the village of Barqa, a few miles from Nabha. A kidnap note was found in his car.
The Voice of Lebanon, radio station of Lebanon's Christian rightist Falangist Party, said Kluiters was well known to people in the area. He had worked in Lebanon for 20 years and spoke fluent Arabic, the station said.
Kluiters is the first of almost 20 foreigners kidnaped in Lebanon since the beginning of last year known to have been killed by his abductors, according to the Lebanese security forces.
Eight Westerners are still missing, including five Americans.
Callers to foreign news agencies in Beirut have claimed responsibility for kidnaping most of the foreigners in the name of Islamic Jihad (Islamic Holy War), a Lebanese terrorist group believed to consist of Shia Muslims loyal to Iran.
Two French captives were freed this week. Gilles Sidney Peyrolles, 32, head of the French cultural center in Lebanon's northern port of Tripoli, was released unharmed 10 days after being abducted, the French Embassy said today.
"He was released some time during the night," said embassy spokesman Francois Abi Saab. "He is in good health. I have talked to him on the phone."
French Embassy secretary Danielle Perez was freed Sunday. She said she saw her kidnaped father, embassy attache Marcel Carton, just before her Shia Muslim captors released her in the predominantly Muslim western sector of Beirut.
Perez, 34, spoke to reporters in Christian East Beirut on Monday. She appeared well, and she said she saw her father briefly two or three times since gunmen seized them 10 days ago.
Two Britons Released
She said the gunmen told her that they belonged to the "Khaibar Brigades," a little-known group that last week freed Britons Brian Levick and Geoffrey Nash, kidnaped in Beirut in mid-March.
Perez said she was held like Nash and Levick in solitary detention and was questioned about her embassy work. "We were asked about embassy activities and the movements of certain diplomats. Then they compared what I and my father said."
Her captors gave her no reason for kidnaping her, she said.
French Ambassador Fernand Wibaux, sitting with Perez, told reporters that the kidnapers may have made a mistake. "They believed they (Perez and Carton) had a much more important rank," he said.
Beirut police said Monday that Ishak Sassoun, the latest person abducted in the wave of kidnapings, was the leader of Lebanon's small Jewish community.
Sassoun, 65, was seized by gunmen Sunday near his home in West Beirut. He was the fourth Jew kidnaped in West Beirut in as many days, and there has been no claim of responsibility for those kidnapings.
Fighting Near Sidon
Meanwhile, battles flared at Palestinian refugee camps near the southern Lebanese port of Sidon in the sixth day of heavy fighting between Christians and pro-Israeli militiamen against Palestinians and Muslims.
After a shell landed on the port, ships headed out to sea. Life in the city has been at a standstill for three days as battles raged one mile away and refugees from the nearby Ein el Hilwa and Miye ou Miye camps sought shelter in Sidon.
A political source in Beirut said Syrian President Hafez Assad urged Lebanese President Amin Gemayel to send more troops to Sidon to put down the fighting.
Syria's air force intelligence chief, Mohammed Kholi, delivered a letter from Assad to Gemayel after senior Syrian officials voiced fears that Israel was trying to set up sectarian "cantons" in southern Lebanon, the source said.
Meeting in Damascus on Sunday with Muslim Cabinet ministers of the Gemayel government, the Syrian officials expressed fear that Israel would use its rightist Christian Lebanese allies to create and patrol a Christian militia corridor encircling the Muslim cities of Sidon, Tyre and Nabatiyeh, the source said.