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French Version

International officials welcome UN report on Hariri killing

International and regional officials applauded the report of Serge Brammertz, UN chief investigator into the assassination of Lebanon's former Premier Rafik Hariri, on Wednesday, one day before the UN Security Council was set to discuss its content in New York.

Speaking to The Daily Star from New York, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the UN welcomed the report, adding: "We are looking forward to discussing the report with Mr. Brammertz at the Security Council tomorrow." He urged all concerned parties to show the "utmost cooperation with the investigation."

The report, which was delivered by Brammertz to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and distributed to UNSC members on Tuesday, mentioned that Syria has been cooperating with the international probe, and noted that Brammertz will interview Syrian President Bashar Assad and his deputy Farouk al-Sharaa next month.

Speaking from Paris, Jean Baptist Mattei, spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, said his country supported the work of the investigation committee, and demanded that Damascus "take further steps to speed up Brammertz's work."

Both Lebanon and Syria also welcomed Brammertz's report on Wednesday.

In comments from New York, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said that the report was "realistic and very professional."

The report, which also noted progress in determining the circumstances of the killing, was the first by Brammertz since he took up his new duties on January 23, succeeding German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis.

Since his nomination on January 11, Brammertz has conducted his probe in utmost secrecy. He made his first trip to Damascus on February 23 and met with Foreign Minister Walid Moallem.

Two previous reports under Mehlis had suggested top-level Syrian involvement in the assassination and also blasted Damascus for not only failing to cooperate but also actively seeking to mislead the investigation.

Commenting on that, Mekdad denounced the "scandalous reports previously published by Mehlis, which allowed the media to make pre-emptive judgments" about Syria. The Brammertz report "did not contain anti-Syria aspects," he added.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh also welcomed Brammertz's report, and said it represented the outcome of "professional work."

"We welcome the atmosphere of strong cooperation noted in this report between the international investigation commission and Lebanese authorities, and assert this good atmosphere of cooperation will continue," Salloukh said. Salloukh also said that Lebanon welcomed the "serious cooperation with the commission witnessed by all parties."

Salloukh said the Foreign Ministry has instructed the Lebanese delegation - headed by Ambassador Butros Assaker - to represent Lebanon before Thursday's Security Council meeting, and inform the UNSC of the Lebanese political elite's unanimous support for revealing the truth about Hariri's death. This point was the first agreed upon during the country's ongoing national dialogue.

Hariri's son, parliament majority leader and MP Saad Hariri, said: "This report represents a new step toward revealing the tools used in the crime, and the instigators behind the crime. It also expresses the seriousness in which this investigation has dealt with the terrorist act leading to the murder of Hariri."

Hariri also welcomed the team's work on the rest of the crimes and explosions following Hariri's assassination, saying: "This is an assertion that the international community is interested in Lebanon's stability."

Speaking to The Daily Star, Druze leader MP Walid Jumblatt said the report was "very positive and promising."

"Brammertz is following the work of Mehlis, and if he keeps this pace up the truth will be revealed soon," Jumblatt said.

Although Brammertz said Syria has been cooperating, Jumblatt said the fact that the report decided there is a link between all explosions that took place before and after the assassination of Hariri was an explicit indictment of the Syrian regime.

"This is very important, as it forms a clear political indictment of the Syrian regime that ruled Lebanon at the time of the assassination," Jumblatt said.

He also said that what the report mentioned about highly professional terrorist work in Hariri's murder was further tacit "condemnation for the Syrian regime".

"This is a work on the level of a state, and Syria had strong hegemony over Lebanon then," Jumblatt said.

Brammertz's report had said that "the individuals who perpetrated this crime appear to be very 'professional' in their approach ... It must be assumed that at least some of those involved were likely experienced in this type of terrorist activity."

Jumblatt also said that the fact that Brammertz didn't specify names of suspects in the crime, like his successor Mehlis, was because he was working in a manner befitting a public prosecutor.

"He is taking things very professionally," he said.

Brammertz did not disclose many details about the investigation in his report. The lack of information was a marked contrast to the details delivered by his predecessor, Detlev Mehlis, who publicly described his theories about the explosion.

Brammertz also did not repeat Mehlis' conclusions that the killing could not have happened without the knowledge of senior Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials.


UN report: Syria is cooperating

The United Nations investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is closer to understanding the circumstances surrounding his killing and has received better cooperation from Syria, according to its latest report to the Security Council.

While referring to the killing as a highly complex "terrorist operation," the report said its inquiry was in a particularly delicate stage and that it could not yet name the perpetrators, even though an earlier report had tied the crime to Syrian security officials and their Lebanese counterparts.

Handed to the Security Council on Tuesday, the 25-page report prepared by the United Nations team headed by Serge Brammertz did say that one of those killed in the February 14, 2005, blast had not been identified and it was possible that he was one of the perpetrators behind the killing.

"The commission is closer to a more complete understanding of how the preparatory work was undertaken, how those who participated on the day performed their respective tasks, what those tasks were before, during and after the attack, and of the overall modus operandi employed by the perpetrators of the attack," the commission said.

It further said those involved in carrying out the attack appeared to be "very 'professional' in their approach, as they planned to a high-percentage likelihood for success, and conducted the operation with high standards of individual and collective self-discipline.

"It must be assumed that at least some of those involved were likely experienced in this type of terrorist activity," it said.

The report also identified as a "priority" the investigation of those who enabled the crime.

It said it had identified a number of individuals for interviewing and re-interviewing, and had other evidence under review. However, it refused to give further details due to the "critical requirement of confidentiality."

In January, the commission asked to interview Syrian President Bashar Assad and Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa for their possible connection to the murder.

The lack of information in Brammertz's report was a marked contrast to the details delivered by his predecessor, Detlev Mehlis, who publicly and exhaustively described his theories about the explosion.

Brammertz did not repeat Mehlis' conclusions that the killing could not have happened without the knowledge of senior Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials. It was not clear if he disagreed with Mehlis or just did not want to discuss those details because of the sensitivity of the probe.

Concerning Syrian cooperation with the UN investigation team, the report said: "The Syrian government has, in particular in the last three months, formally complied with nearly all of the Commission's previous requests for assistance."

The report said Damascus had provided responses on a number of specific issues raised by the commission, highlighting that it had examined the archives of Syrian military intelligence and reviewed records related to the political situation in Lebanon as requested.

After two high-level meetings, reported to have been held in Damascus and Beirut, Syria agreed to a deal granting the commission access to "individuals, sites and information," among other things.

The report said the commission and Syrian authorities would hold regular meetings on cooperation matters.

The report detailed, for the first time, the 14 assassinations and assassination attempts in Lebanon since October 1, 2004.

Brammertz is scheduled to brief the 15-member Council Thursday.

Beirut 21-03-2006
Majdoline Hatoum
The Daily Star

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