UN probe into ex-Lebanese premier's assassination faces threats, its chief says

Detlev Mehlis

25 October 2005 – The head of the United Nations commission which found evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri told the Security Council today the team had received threats and the already high risks it faced would increase further as it completes its work.

"The safety and security of the commission's members must be a priority," UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) head Detlev Mehlis said as the 15-member body took up the interim report he presented earlier this month. UNIIIC has been extended until 15 December.

"It should be noted that despite all the precautionary measures, the level risk which was already high will increase further, particularly after the issuance of the report," he added, while noting the major role Lebanese security forces had so far played in addition to the commission's own security team.

"I would also like to add that the commission has received a number of threats which were deemed, in the assessment of our security personnel, to be credible," he said.

Asked about the threats at a later news conference, Mr. Mehlis said flyers were distributed in south Lebanon threatening the commission and himself, and other more individual threats from groups, "but as far we were able to verify or to trace these threats they definitely do not come from any, let me say, official sites."

Mr. Mehlis said the extension of the commission's mandate would provide "yet another opportunity for the Syrian authorities to show greater and meaningful cooperation, and to provide any relevant substantial evidence on the assassination."

In his report Mr. Mehlis noted that while the Syrian authorities, after initial hesitation, had cooperated to a limited degree with the commission, several interviewees tried to mislead the investigation by giving false or inaccurate statements and that a letter addressed from the Foreign Minister proved to contain false information.

"The Syrian authorities may wish to carry out on their part their own investigation into the assassination of Mr. Hariri in an open and transparent manner," he said today. "This would enable to 'fill in the gaps' and to have a clearer picture about the organizers and perpetrators of the 14 February terrorist act."

In his news conference Mr. Mehlis said he had asked the Syrian authorities to provide files of Mr. Hariri, and "the Syrian authorities told us 'well, we do not have a single document,' which, frankly speaking, I do not think is true. But what can the commission do? I cannot send 500 investigators which I don't have to Syria to look for documents because I wouldn't know where to find them.

"So… we expect from the Syrian authorities not to just react, but to act, to really look into the matter themselves."

As another example of the dealings with Syria, he cited Syrian intelligence chief Rustom Ghazali as telling "us he has the most friendly and personal relationship with Mr. Hariri, and then we come across these taped telephone calls where he is referring to Prime Minister Hariri as a dog. So somehow that doesn't fit and I think it would be a good idea if the Syrian authorities just would make an extra effort by themselves."

The bombing that killed Mr. Hariri and 20 others 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. Syrian withdrew its military forces in April.

After Mr. Mehlis's presentation and addresses by the Syrian and Lebanese representatives, the Council held consultations on the report.

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