by Sylvie Briand, Mariam Saidi spends her days creating clay busts of her beloved son who vanished without a trace 26 years ago, aged only 16, in the midst of the savage civil war which tore through Lebanon. Sitting in her little apartment on the outskirts of Beirut, the mother of five clutches a faded photograph of Maher Kassir and recalls how he disappeared after becoming embroiled in the sectarian violence which blighted the country.

Maher is only one of an estimated 17,000 people who vanished during the brutal 1975-1990 conflict which claimed the lives of more than 150,000 at the hands of Lebanese militias or the Syrian and Israeli armies.For this 59-year-old Shiite, the civil war has still not truly ended and all she can do now is sit in her home in the popular Sfeir district and pray that one day she will discover what happened to her boy. Maher had joined the fight against Israeli forces who entered Lebanon and on June 17, 1982, he was barricaded in a science university building alongside other communist party fighters. The building, also in the Sfeir district, was attacked by Israeli troops, backed by Lebanese Christian militants and her son was captured, Saidi said.

They were arrested and transported to a jail controlled by Lebanese forces. Since then, I have heard nothing," said the seamstress who has suffered crippling depression since the 2006 conflict between Israel and Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which has left her unable to work.

She proudly showed one of the last photos taken of her son, in which he poses with a Kalashnikov rifle.

"The Lebanese government is not interested in discovering his fate because many of the people implicated in these disappearances, both government and opposition people, now have senior jobs," she said, adding her son may have been transferred to an Israeli prison.

She has tirelessly fought to discover the true fate of her son, and the thousands of other disappeared, and is now the deputy head of a group lobbying for an inquiry into their fate.

"The Lebanese government is not ready, either politically or technically," to launch a serious inquiry into the disappearances due to the current political deadlock which has gripped the country for several months, said Wadih al-Asmar, secretary general of the Lebanese Centre for Human Rights (LCHR).

Lebanon has been hit by the most serious crisis since the civil war after former president Emile Lahoud stepped down on November 23 and feuding political factions have been unable to agree on the election of a successor.

Lebanon does not really want Syria to "open its archives because that would reveal the true level of collaboration" between Beirut and Damascus, which was the dominant power in Lebanon for 29 years, until 2005.

A commission was launched after the war but has not released any meaningful results with even the number of mass graves remaining a mystery, according to the LCHR.

It is this inaction from the commission which has inspired NGOs and human rights groups to lobby for an international inquiry into the fate of the disappeared.

These calls have gone unheeded, sparking protests from the families of the missing, including a three-year sit-in outside the UN headquarters in Beirut by the mothers of vanished people.

Nadim Houry, from New York-based Human Rights Watch, said that after the savage sectarian violence which shattered the country during the war, the Lebanese people wanted simply to turn a page and leave the violence behind.

It was a "survival instinct," he said, adding the country was still not ready to confront its demons.

He said it was crucial that progress is made to resolve the issue, particularly while the spectre of a new civil war looms large, and people remain divided into pro-Western and pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian factions.

Despite the political tensions which threaten to plunge Lebanon into a new war, Saidi is still positive that things will improve, and she clings desperately to the hope she will one day learn the truth about her son.