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Middle East: UN Panel Finds Flaws In Probe Of Lebanese Ex-Prime Minister's Death

By Robert McMahon

A UN panel has found serious flaws with the investigation by Lebanese authorities into the killing of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The report does not assign direct blame for the killing, but it says Lebanese security services and Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon bear responsibility for the lack of protection and law and order in the country. The UN inquiry recommends an independent international investigation into the killing. A top Syrian diplomat issued an immediate denial of Syrian negligence or involvement in Hariri's death.

United Nations, 25 March 2005 (RFE/RL) - The UN report says Lebanon's pro-Syrian authorities are incapable of conducting a credible investigation into Rafiq Hariri's killing.

It says the Lebanese security services have shown "serious and systematic negligence" in carrying out the duties normally performed by a national security body, starting with the failure to provide adequate protection for such a prominent figure as Hariri.

The report also says Syrian military intelligence shares responsibility to the extent that it has run the security services of Lebanon. And it says Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs contributed heavily to the political tension that preceded Hariri's assassination.

The only way to find the truth, the report says, is by turning the investigation over to an independent international commission. The UN Security Council requested the report and members said yesterday they would need time to study it.

British UN ambassador Emyr Jones Parry told reporters he expected the Security Council to authorize a broadened inquiry.

"There is no question that the content and the recommendations of that report are deeply alarming," Jones Parry said. "I expect the [Security] Council to give the fullest consideration. I expect the council to support the idea that there should be an independent investigation, certainly the United Kingdom will support that."

Lebanon's president, Emile Lahoud, said he had told UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to take the necessary steps to determine who killed Hariri.

The 14 February attack set off a chain of events that could hasten the removal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. That withdrawal was mandated by a Security Council resolution in September, which Hariri had supported. In recent weeks there has been a growing call within Lebanon for an end to Syrian domination. UN officials say they expect the withdrawal to be complete before Lebanese parliamentary elections, due by the end of May.

Syrian UN Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad denied the inquiry's charge that Syria had contributed to the poor security environment. He told reporters that Syria's nearly 30-year occupation of Lebanon had played a pacifying role. He said last year's Security Council resolution, initiated by France and the United States, was to blame for sowing discord in Lebanon.

"This is the background that polarized the Lebanese people and it is not the Syrian presence, which has been accepted and welcomed by all the Lebanese people and in fact it is Syria that has created a peaceful atmosphere for the Lebanese people to live in from 1976 to most recently," Mekdad said.

The UN inquiry, headed by Irish deputy police commissioner Peter Fitzgerald, said sources close to Hariri told it of threats made by Syrian President Bashir Assad during a meeting in the summer of 2004.

According to the inquiry, Hariri had told these sources Assad threatened physical harm to him and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt if they opposed an extension of Lahoud's term as president. Hariri eventually supported the extension but also backed the U.S.-French resolution calling for Syria's ouster.

Syrian officials refused the UN mission's request to meet with Assad to corroborate the report.

Syrian ambassador Mekdad rejected the allegations.

"I wish that Mr. Fitzgerald had not gone into such allegations because they could never be substantiated since Mr. Hariri is not there anymore," Mekdad said. "But I assure you that we don't deal this way when we disagree with our counterparts."

The UN report says Hariri and 19 others were killed after their convoy passed over a 1,000-kilogram explosive outside a hotel in central Beirut.

It points to a number of mistakes by Lebanese authorities afterward, such as a failure to properly secure the site and allowing a broken water main to flood the scene and wash away key evidence.

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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