At Security Council, Syria claims support for Hariri probe, Lebanon seeks new tribunal

13 December 2005 –

Bearing new evidence pointing to Syria’s involvement in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and its reluctance to investigate the crime, the head of the independent probe on the matter presented his latest report to the Security Council, where the Ambassador of Syria denied this account while Lebanon’s representative called for the creation of an international tribunal.

During the meeting, Detlev Mehlis, who leads the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC), affirmed that evidence was converging on 19 unidentified suspects in the 14 February slaying that also killed 22 others, and recommended a six-month extension for UNIIIC while adding that he had to step down as its head.

He also emphasized the strong cooperation of Lebanese authorities with the Commission, stressing Lebanese ownership of the investigation, while depicting the Syrian authorities as reluctant and slow.

“I was here seven weeks ago in this very same chamber suggesting to Syrian authorities to carry out their own investigation into the assassination,” Mr. Mehlis recalled. “Yet it has been after much hesitation and procrastination that the Syrian authorities finally agree to move on the request to interview five Syrian officials whom the Commission determined as suspects.”

“It remains to be seen whether the Syrian cooperation will be in full and without any conditions,” he said, noting that, though late, the interviews did finally take place under the conditions required by the Commission.

Following Mr. Mehlis’ briefing, the representative of Lebanon, Ibrahim Assaf, pledged his country’s continued cooperation with the Commission, inviting other parties to do likewise. “Maintaining the necessary stability and security for the region requires shedding light on the crime and punishing all the perpetrators,” he said.

Mr. Assaf also asked the Council to establish an international tribunal, in or outside Lebanon, which would try all those who according to the Commission had been involved in the bombing.

In addition, he said he had requested that the Council broaden the mandate of the Commission – or to set up another investigation – to help the Lebanese authorities investigate what he called linked terrorist attacks, from the attempt on the life of Marwan Hamadi in October 2004 to yesterday’s bombing that killed journalist Gibran Tueni.

Syrian Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad repeated Syria’s condemnation of the assassination of Mr. Hariri, as well as yesterday’s killing of Mr. Tueni and attempts to use such bombings to make accusations against Syria.

“All this falls within a scheme that aims to destabilize the region as a whole,” he said, pledging Syria’s continued, full cooperation with the Commission and disagreeing with the report’s depiction of Syrian reluctance to do so.

He said the Syrian Judicial Commission had provided the Commission with all the information required, but was delayed because the Commission did not pursue a constructive relationship with that body. He added that the Commission had also leaked reports to the media and did not respect other human rights relating to criminal proceedings.

“We do not believe that the Member States of the Security Council, when voting on resolution 1636, aimed to encroach upon the sovereignty of States or to ignore the commitment to the implementation of the basic rules of human rights,” he said. Adopted in October, that resolution called on Syria to detain Syrian suspects identified by the UNIIIC and clarify all unresolved issues, and held out the possibility of “further action” in the case of non-compliance.

Countering the report’s contention that the witness Hussam Taher Hussam had recanted his testimony under pressure, Ambassador Mekdad said that there was no truth to the statements that threats had been made against him before he made his statement in Syria.

He reiterated Syria’s readiness to cooperate with the investigation in the future.

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