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A Secret U.N. Envoy for Mideast

Kofi Annan says his mediator will try to get Hezbollah to release two seized Israeli soldiers.

September 05, 2006|From Reuters

BEIRUT — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday that he would appoint a secret envoy to work for the release of the two Israeli soldiers whose capture by Hezbollah guerrillas triggered a month-long war.

Israeli officials said Annan's role was to secure the release of the soldiers, not to mediate. Hezbollah gave a cautious response, backing only indirect negotiations to secure an exchange of prisoners from both sides.

"The two sides have accepted the efforts of the secretarygeneral to help solve this problem," Annan told a news conference in Saudi Arabia. "I will appoint a person to work secretly with the two sides.... I will not announce his name today or tomorrow," he said, through an Arabic interpreter.

The unconditional release of the soldiers, whose capture by Hezbollah guerrillas in a cross-border raid July 12 sparked a 34-day war, is called for in the preamble to the U.N. resolution that brought about a cease-fire.

The same preamble also "encourages" the settling of the issue of Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel.

A top Hezbollah official, Lebanese Energy Minister Mohammed Fneish, said: "We agree to a basic principle which is to conduct a prisoner exchange through indirect negotiations. Who is the channel is a detail."

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel would not enter into any negotiations to free the soldiers.

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