'We hope their families get justice' - TD Paul Kehoe on murders of Irish peacekeepers
Minister with responsibility for defence, Paul Kehoe has told his Lebanese counterpart that he hopes the families of murdered Irish peacekeepers, Private Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne get justice.
Mr Kehoe made his comments after it emerged that the trial of Mahmoud Bazzi, who is charged with their murders, has been postponed again until October.
Bazzi (74) was deported back to Lebanon from the United States over four years ago and is currently being tried by a military tribunal in Beirut on charges of murdering Pte Barrett, from Cork, and Pte Smallhorne, from Dublin, and the attempted murder of Pte John O'Mahony, on April 18, 1980
Former ice cream seller, Bazzi was sentenced last year to almost four years imprisonment on a separate charge of collaborating with Israel.
Bazzi was alleged to have been a former senior member of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), which was founded by a renegade major, Saad Haddad, but operated under the control of the Israelis.
His sentence of 3.75 years hard labour dated back to the time of his arrest but he remained in custody, pending the outcome of the murder case.
The incident in which the two peacekeepers were abducted, tortured and murdered and Pte O'Mahony injured. took place less than two weeks after a clash between United Nations troops and the SLA in which Massoud Bazzi, a brother of Mahmoud Bazzi, was killed.
Mahmoud Bazzi later appeared on Lebanese TV, claiming he was responsible for the shootings to avenge the death of his brother. He later retracted his statement, alleging he had been forced to issue it by his commander.
Mr Kehoe raised the issue of the trial during a meeting in Dublin yesterday with Lebanese foreign minister, Gebran Bassil.
After a visit to Leinster House, Mr Bassil laid a wreath at the national memorial in Merrion Square in honour of members of the Defence Forces, who lost their lives in the service of the State.
During the meeting Mr Bassil expressed his deep appreciation for Ireland's contribution to UN peacekeeping operations.
"Ireland has long been one of the significant contributors to UNIFIL in Lebanon and Lebanon salutes Irish peacekeepers' sacrifices for the cause of peace.
"Irish presence is still very much needed in the region, it contributes to regional security and stability.
"It has also created bonds between our two people, which had already existed but had only been strengthened and grown deeper", Mr Bassil added.
Mr Kehoe said the government remained strongly committed to the maintenance of peace and security in southern Lebanon.
He added that he was "greatly impressed" by the briefing he had received from Mr Bassil.
"We had a very useful discussion on many issues of mutual interest and concern to our countries, including trade, bilateral relations and regional affairs", Mr Kehoe added.
Irish troops have been involved in the peace mission in Lebanon since 1978 and the battalion based there represents the biggest overseas deployment by the Defence Forces.