BEIRUT, MARCH 1 -- Two Scandinavian U.N. relief officials were freed today, less than a month after being taken hostage, a United Nations spokeswoman said.
The group that claimed it kidnaped the two men, Revolutionary Cells, announced in a brief statement that they were freed after being "proved innocent." The statement, delivered to a western news agency, did not say of what charges the two men were proved innocent. It was accompanied by a color photograph of Jan Stening, 44, a Swede, and William Joergensen, 58, a Norwegian. The two officials of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency were abducted near the port city of Sidon, 25 miles south of Beirut, on Feb. 5.
The agency provides relief to approximately 280,000 Palestinian refugees. Agency spokeswoman Raya Abdel Malak said the Scandinavians were released near the Summerland Hotel in west Beirut. She said the two were in good condition.
Meanwhile, in a statement earlier today, the kidnapers of U.S. Marine Lt. Col. William Higgins said he had been involved in an American-Israeli plan for southern Lebanon. The Organization of the Oppressed on Earth provided no details of the alleged deal.
The Arabic typewritten statement was not accompanied by any photographs. The "investigations will continue with this spy to complete his file which is replete with crimes," the organization said.
It also said Israel's response to the uprising in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and the recently completed Mideast visit by Secretary of State George P. Shultz "make us more determined to try this criminal Higgins." There was no way to authenticate the statement.
Higgins was seized by three gunmen near the southern port city of Tyre Feb. 17. A massive hunt for the officer, who heads a U.N. observers group that monitors truce violations on the Lebanon-Israel border, was launched by the mainstream Shiite Amal movement in southern Lebanon.