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Investigator: Syria Not Fully Cooperating With Hariri Murder Probe

14 December 2005

The chief investigator into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has questioned Syria's willingness to cooperate, and warned that the probe could take years unless Damascus stops its delaying tactics. The Security Council is considering a Lebanese request to expand the probe.

German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis says the Hariri assassination inquiry is being hampered by Syria's slow cooperation.

In a written report to the Security Council a day earlier, Mr. Mehlis said new evidence had strengthened his belief that Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services were involved in a wide conspiracy to kill Mr. Hariri.

Briefing the Council Tuesday, Mr. Mehlis said conflicting signals from Damascus had led to confusion and delays. "It has been after much hesitation and procrastination that the Syrian authorities finally agreed to move on the request to interview five Syrian officials whom the commission considers as suspects. This took place only a week ago. At this rate, the investigation might take another year or two," he said.

Syria has vigorously denied involvement in the killing. After listening to Mr. Mehlis's briefing, Syria's U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad said his government had been fully cooperative with the investigation. "We have given to the committee whatever it wants. It is in our interest to find the truth, and the truth as emphasized by Syria is that Syria has nothing to do with this heinous crime," he said.

The Security Council is considering a Lebanese request to extend the Mehlis probe, expand its mandate to include other political killings, and establish an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination.

But Mr. Mehlis himself is stepping down as chief investigator, and it remains unclear who will take over.

The German prosecutor received death threats during his six months on the job, and Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday some qualified candidates have turned down offers to take the high-pressure post. "There were some candidates who are not available, you know. And so we're going down the list. And I must say that I had similar problems even before I appointed Mehlis. We had others who turned down the job. And of course, given that it's a high-pressure job, high-profile, and a tough situation, but I'm sure I'll find someone to do it," he said.

The killing of Mr. Hariri in a bomb blast last February touched off a sweeping change in Lebanon's political landscape. Massive street protests forced Damascus to end its 30-year political and military control of the country, but the withdrawal of Syrian troops has been accompanied by a series of politically-motivated killings.

The latest to die was anti-Syrian journalist and member of parliament Gibran Tueni, who died in a bomb blast Monday, hours before the release of the Mehlis report.

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