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Foreigners Won't Leave Beirut and Embassies Are Frustrated

January 26, 1987|From Reuters

BEIRUT — The continued presence of foreigners in Muslim West Beirut is causing the embassies of their countries growing anxiety and frustration.

"We would like them all to get out," said a British diplomat of his estimated 45 fellow countrymen who apparently refuse to budge from the city's kidnap-plagued Muslim sector.

"Ten of our people there come from a single family of Lebanese origin. Another Englishman is 92 years old and draws a small civil service pension. Some have spent most or all of their adult lives there and would obviously find it difficult to settle anywhere else," he said.

Saturday's seizure of three Americans at Beirut University College has underlined the dangers for those who refuse to heed official advice to leave.

Western embassies routinely contact their citizens by telephone or letter, warning them that they should withdraw from West Beirut unless they have pressing reasons to remain.

Most of the estimated 8,000 foreign nationals still working in Lebanon are the wives or husbands of Lebanese.

That figure, according to Lebanon's Labor Ministry, includes Arab and Asian nationals, but it excludes diplomats and their families.

"All foreigners are potential targets, but some are at greater risk than others. Unfortunately, individuals say, 'It'll never happen to me,' and of course it invariably does," said one Western diplomat.

Embassy officials say the level of risk depends on where the foreigner lives, on his or her nationality and the degree of personal security.

Until the abduction eight days ago of West German businessman Rudolf Cordes, West Germans did not regard themselves as targets for armed bands roaming West Beirut.

"Long after most of my American, French and British friends left, I would still see Germans sitting at the bar," said a Lebanese woman at one popular meeting place, Sammy's Bar.

A year ago, foreigners packed restaurants on West Beirut's seafront before strolling through dimly-lit, deserted streets to the popular Backstreet nightclub.

"It was fun," said one Lebanese student. "A party might start at 9 p.m. and end up at a disco at the Summerland Hotel at dawn. There were all kinds of people, from Italian helicopter pilots to Bulgarian writers."

Few foreigners venture out now--by day or by night.

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