(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Officials welcome extension of Hariri investigation

Lebanese officials welcomed United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1644, passed on Friday, which extended the mandate of a UN probe into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri for another six months.

On Saturday, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the new resolution met the Lebanese demands. "We thank the member states of the Security Council for their efforts made to issue the resolution, which met the requests of the Lebanese government," he said.

UNSC Resolution 1644 extended the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission's (UNIIIC) mandate until 15 June 2006, “reaffirming its determination that this terrorist act and its implications constitute a threat to international peace and security."

Answering the Lebanese government's request to extend the UNIIIC's mandate to cover other crimes perpetrated in Lebanon since 1 October, 2004, the Security Council authorised the Commission to provide "technical assistance as appropriate to the Lebanese authorities."

In order to try suspects in the Hariri murder, the UNSC also called for a "tribunal of an international character," leaving it to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to help the Lebanese government "identify the nature and scope of the international assistance needed in this regard."

UNSC Resolution 1644 comes after the UNIIIC's second report was handed over to Annan on 10 December.

An initial report, released in October, concluded the decision to kill Hariri on 14 February "could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials". The latest report stressed a lack of cooperation on the part of Damascus and increased efforts to hinder the probe.

The commission stated that it had received credible information that close relatives of a key witness, Hussam Taher Hussam, had been arrested and threatened by Syrian officials.

Hussam had appeared on Syrian television to recant the evidence he gave to UNIIIC's head Detlev Mehlis that implicated the Syrian president's brother Maher Assad and brother-in-law, Assef Shawqat, in the Hariri assassination.

Moreover, after questioning high-ranking Syrian officials in Vienna between 5 and 7 December, the Commission had clear indications that "all Syrian intelligence documents concerning Lebanon have been burned."

"Considering the strength of previous [UNSC] Resolution 1636 [which came in the wake of the first report], there were high expectations that have not been met," said MP and political analyst Farid Khazen.

While UNSC Resolution 1636 threatened Syria with further sanctions in the case of a lack of cooperation, UNSC Resolution 1644 was void of similar warnings, saying it was “deeply concerned at the UN probe's assessment of Syrian performance to date". It added that "the Syrian government has yet to provide the Commission with the full and unconditional cooperation demanded in Resolution 1636."

However, "This [Resolution 1644] is not a setback," said Khazen. He added, "What is problematic, is the way the resolution will be interpreted by Syria…"It might be misinterpreted and seen as giving less attention [to Syria's scheming] which would encourage Damascus to continue to destabilize Lebanon," he said.

While many see the extension of the commission's mandate as another threat to local stability, Khazen thinks that if the investigation were to stop, there would be more terrorist attacks in the country.

Meanwhile, Syrian ambassador to the UN Faisal Mekhdad said he believed his government had met the criteria of investigators and would co-operate in the future, the BBC reported.

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