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UN Reports Progress In Hariri Murder Probe

Lebanon: UN Reports Progress In Syrian Co-operation With Hariri Murder Probe

New York, Mar 16 2006

In contrast to earlier problems with Syrian cooperation, the United Nations panel looking into last year’s assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri today reported progress in this “critical area,” with a common understanding reached regarding access to individuals, sites and information.

Noting that Damascus has signalled its intention to fully comply with Security Council resolutions on the issue, the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) says in its latest report that it intends to request “full, unhindered and direct access” to documents, facilities and sites, as well as interviews with Syrian citizens, after earlier reports pointed to Syrian involvement.

“Despite these encouraging steps, it is important to note that the Commission will ultimately judge cooperation of the Syrian authorities on the merits of the information provided and promptness with which its requests are being accommodated,” UNIIIC Commissioner Serge Brammertz cautions in his report to the Council.

“This understanding will be tested in the upcoming months,” he observes, stressing that the Commission “looks forward to receiving timely and relevant responses to its requests, as agreed by the Syrian Government.”

Mr. Brammertz writes that a significant number of new lines of inquiry identified since the start of the year have enabled faster-than-expected progress and the Commission “is confident that its support to the Lebanese authorities will result in a successful outcome to the investigation within a realistic time-frame.”

UNIIIC, set up after an earlier UN mission deemed Lebanon's own investigation seriously flawed and Syria primarily responsible for the political tension preceding Mr. Hariri’s murder, has already reported finding evidence pointing to both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in the bomb attack, which killed the ex-premier and 22 others.

In the latest report, Mr. Brammertz discusses the possibility of a tribunal “of an international character” to judge any suspects charged in the murder, notes a high level of professionalism and experience in terrorism on the part of the perpetrators, and reports that he has been promised a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the upcoming month.

He also details UNIIIC’s expanded mandate to assist Lebanon in the investigation of 14 other terrorist attacks committed in Lebanon since October 2004, noting certain common characteristics in these crimes.

“With the expansion of its mandate and the prospect of a tribunal of international character on the horizon, the work of the Commission has entered into a new phase,” notes Mr. Brammertz, who took over as head of UNIIIC from Detlev Mehlis.

Mr. Hariri's assassination in February 2005 led to renewed calls for the withdrawal of all Syrian troops and intelligence agents, who had been in Lebanon since the early stages of the country's 1975-1990 civil war. Syria withdrew its troops from its smaller neighbour last April.

ENDS

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