BEIRUT — A Saudi Arabian diplomat held hostage for 66 days was freed Wednesday, raising hopes that Syria's military intervention in West Beirut could lead to the release of other foreign captives.
An exhausted Bakr Damanhouri wept as he told reporters of his ordeal at a news conference organized by Shia Muslim Amal militia leader Nabih Berri at his West Beirut residence.
No group claimed responsibility for kidnaping Damanhouri, and he did not identify his captors.
Damanhouri, who was responsible for handling the affairs of Saudi students in Lebanon, was the first hostage released in Lebanon since the shadowy Revolutionary Justice Organization freed Frenchmen Camille Sontag and Marcel Coudari on Nov. 10.
Berri told the news conference--which was also attended by Saudi financier Rafik Hariri and Brig. Gen. Ghazi Kenaan, head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon--that Amal and Syria played a role in the surprise release of the diplomat.
"We hope this release will be the beginning of the release of others and at the same time the end of kidnaping incidents in Lebanon," Berri said.
25 Still Missing
Kenaan, who commands the more than 7,000 Syrian troops who took control of Muslim West Beirut on Feb. 22, welcomed Damanhouri's safe release and said he hopes for a "happy ending for all the hostages."
Twenty-five foreigners are still missing and feared kidnaped by Muslim extremists in Lebanon--including eight Americans, six Frenchmen and Church of England envoy Terry Waite.
Asked about French hostage Jean-Louis Normandin, whose captors have made three threats to kill him in the last week, Berri said: "I think there is a chance (to gain his freedom), but it is quite complicated. It's not easy."
An independent Beirut newspaper, An Nahar, reported Wednesday that Syrian pressures prompted the Revolutionary Justice Organization to abandon plans to kill Normandin, 34, a lighting engineer for France's Antenne 2 television station.
The newspaper said Syria's efforts on Normandin's behalf "could reflect positively" on its peace drive in Beirut.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, the weekly newspaper Literary Gazette claimed Wednesday that it has learned that Anglican Church envoy Waite is being held at the Iranian Embassy in West Beirut. The government-controlled newspaper did not give a source for the report.