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UN Admits Errors On Israeli Video - 2001-08-04

The United Nations has released a report detailing the role of U.N. peacekeepers during and immediately after the abduction of three Israeli troops by the Hezbollah late last year. At issue is whether or not U.N. officials kept sensitive material from Israeli authorities which may have shed light on the fate of the three men.

On October 7 of last year, three Israeli soldiers were abducted in southern Lebanon during a raid by Hezbollah forces. Later that day, two vehicles were found which belonged to Hezbollah containing explosives and a large volume of forged U.N. materials, including a United Nations flag and uniforms. Traces of blood were also found.

The following day a videotape of the items was made and the items themselves were removed and catalogued. But those in possession of the tape failed to let their superiors know it existed because they feared release of the tape could compromise the impartiality of the U.N. in the region.

And the U.N. did not tell the Israelis about the tape for months, despite Israel's requests for information on the fate of the soldiers.

Last May, the U.N. force commander at the time of the attack handed the tape over to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at U.N. headquarters in New York. But Secretary-General Kofi Annan was not made aware of its existence until after his June 16 visit to Israel. When Israeli officials were informed about the videotape they were told it contained no information about where the soldiers were or how they were abducted.

An investigation was then ordered by the Secretary-General into why senior U.N. officials were not told of its existence.

The author of the report, U.N. Under-Secretary Joseph Connor, is adamant that the U.N. does not have information relevant to the fate of the soldiers, but concedes several major errors were made. "United Nations officials, at headquarters and in the field made mistakes," he said. "The failure to inform headquarters adequately and in a timely manner contributed to miscommunications between the field and headquarters and between the United Nations and member states. There was also a tendency by senior United Nations officials to overprotect information or at a minimum not to disclose it to their superiors in the belief their judgement alone is correct."

In accepting Mr. Connor's findings, Secretary-General Kofi Annan says there were serious errors of judgement in withholding information from the Israelis, and he acknowledged shortcomings in internal U.N. communications. He says measures will be taken to ensure such lapses will not happen again.

Mr. Annan also expressed his indignation at the use of falsified U.N. materials as part of a military operation.

The whereabouts of the three Israeli soldiers is still unknown.