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Belgian Doctor Freed by Kidnapers in Lebanon

June 15, 1989|From Times Wire Services

SIDON, Lebanon — A shadowy group citing an appeal by Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi today freed a Belgian doctor who was kidnaped and taken hostage 13 months ago while doing relief work in southern Lebanon.

Jan Cools, 33, said afterward he was treated "in a bad and nasty manner" during his captivity.

A security source said a ransom was paid for his release but Cools would not comment on a ransom.

Cools, who worked with the Norwegian Aid Committee, was freed and taken to the house of a local militia leader in the southern port city of Sidon, 24 miles south of Beirut.

"I feel very happy but I am tired," he said at a news conference where he was accompanied by Belgian Trade Minister Robert Urbain.

Looking healthy but haggard, Cools first said his captors treated him well. "I was never hurt . . . they were never aggressive to me," he said.

But after leaving the militia leader's home, Cools told a Belgium Radio correspondent in Flemish, "I was treated in a bad and nasty manner." He did not elaborate on the bad treatment.

He had often been blindfolded and spent the last eight months in isolation without even a radio. He said he had been kidnaped by two gunmen and was moved several times.

Cools, accompanied by Belgian officials, later left Sidon en route to Damascus, Syria. From there he was expected to fly back to Belgium, sources said.

Urbain appeared to have paved the way for Cools' release during a three-day visit to Tripoli last week. Urbain promised to unfreeze Belgian contracts in Libya worth $60 million, which had been delayed for technical reasons, a spokesman for his office said.

Cools was kidnaped May 21, 1988, after he left his apartment in the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidiyeh near the southern port city of Tyre, 46 miles south of Beirut. The Soldiers of Truth, a clandestine group whose affiliations are not known, said it kidnaped Cools and accused him of spying for Israel.

The release of Cools reduced to 17 the number of foreigners held hostage in Lebanon. They include nine Americans and Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite, who vanished in Muslim West Beirut in January, 1987.

The last previous Western hostage released was West German Markus Quint, who was freed May 14 in the Zahrani region, south of Sidon.

A security source close to Mustafa Saad said a big ransom was paid for the captors to release Cools, but could not tell the amount.

Soon after Cools' kidnaping, the Norwegian Aid Committee halted its humanitarian operations in southern Lebanon. With about 10 volunteers, the group had provided medical assistance to Palestinian refugees.

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