In the fourth part of our Entebbe raid story, two camps emerge as Uganda takes the fight to the United Nations Security Council. Diplomats disagree on whether what happened at Entebbe was an act of aggression or a fight against international terrorism
The disagreement came right at the start of the debate on July 9th 1976, as diplomats disagreed on whether what happened at Entebbe was Israel aggression or Uganda's collusion with terrorists.
At the time of the attack at Entebbe, the UN Secretary General, Dr Kurt Waldheim, was in Mauritius attending the OAU summit.
Waldheim, who served as UN chief from 1972 to 1981, is quoted by both the Egyptian Middle East News Agency and the Boston-based The St Petersburg Times saying the raid on Entebbe was "a serious violation against the sovereignty of a member state of the United Nations." He, however, expressed happiness that the lives of 102 hostages had been saved.
From Mauritius, Lt Col Oris headed straight to New York to put Uganda's case before the Security Council. Oris on July 9th accused Israel of subjecting Uganda to what he called "barbaric aggression" at a time when President Amin had "almost secured" the release of the hostages being held by the hijackers. He categorically denied that Uganda had collaborated with the hijackers.
Italy had just assumed the presidency of the Security Council from Guyana. In fact, Italian Ambassador Piero Vinci, who was now Council president, had the Entebbe debate as his first order of business. He found himself presiding over a highly charged meeting with tempers sometimes flaring.
On Vinci's table were complaints from Mauritius, Mauritania, Uganda, Somalia, Mexico, Libya, Qatar and then Israel. The atmosphere was so much charged that Sir Harold Walter from Mauritius quipped: "Mr. President, I wonder whether I should congratulate you on assuming such a high office or sympathise with you, for how uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."
Ambassador L.K Mwangaguhunga, Uganda's Charge d'Affairs to the UN presented a letter from Amin in which the president gave a detailed account of what happened at Entebbe and called for tough action against Israel. "I request that the international organisations for which you are the respective spokesmen, be fully briefed on this incident and that Israel be condemned in the strongest possible terms for the aggression. In the meantime, Uganda reserves her right to retaliate in whatever way she can to redress the aggression against her," Amin concludes his letter.
Aggression or Terrorism?
From July 9th to 14th the Security Council was locked in an acrimonious debate on the Entebbe raid. The debate progressed along two significant interpretations of the attack. Uganda and her allies - third world and socialist members of the Security Council - insisted that the debate focus on the question of the Israeli violation of Uganda's sovereignty. Israel on the other hand rallied the West, especially France, United Kingdom and the United States to condemn "international terrorism."
Some of the strongest criticisms of the Entebbe raid came from the representatives of Libya, Guinea, Mauritius, Guyana, the Soviet Union, and Somalia among others
Those who applauded Israel's action included United Kingdom, United States and France.
It appears the French Ambassador Jacques Lecompte found it difficult to reconcile his country's position during the debate with the available facts. Lecompte submitted that his government regarded plane hijackings as "intolerable violations of international morality." Without mentioning Israel, however, he expressed his delegation's satisfaction that the hostages were freed.
But Lecompte, in his submission, made one important revelation: That Pierre Renard, the French ambassador in Kampala, had requested the Uganda government to permit the airbus to land at Entebbe. He said: "The French authorities, when informed of this hijacking, alerted some of their embassies, including that in Kampala, asking them to take steps for the plane to be given permission to land, since it was soon going to run out of fuel. That is why our Ambassador in Kampala approached the Ugandan authorities about this, and permission to land was given immediately."
Other representatives soon picked on this. Abraham Doukoure of Guinea argued thus: "If Uganda had refused to permit the landing of the airbus in distress at Entebbe, it is certain that for lack of fuel the aircraft would have crashed, immediately killing all passengers. And then the international outcry against Uganda would have been even angrier."
Doukoure went on to say that since France itself had asked its representatives to speak to President Amin so that the airbus would be able to land at Entebbe, Uganda "cannot be reproached for having acted as it should have in such tragic circumstances." Calling the hijacked plane a "poisoned package", the Guinean diplomat noted that if Uganda's actions indicated any kind of connivance with the hijackers, "then France also participated by intervening so that the airbus might land at Entebbe."
In the fifth part of the Entebbe raid story, Libyan and Israeli Envoys Clash as two draft resolutions emerge.