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French Version

UN wraps up investigation on Hariri killing

Magistrate denies reports of blast crater being covered

A United Nations team investigating the killing of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in a February 14 bomb blast has completed its probe, officials said on Tuesday.

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The head of the UN team, Ireland's deputy police commissioner Peter Fitzgerald, informed Lebanese President Emile Lahoud that he would leave Beirut on Wednesday and travel to New York, where he would submit his report to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The UN team, also comprised of Egyptian and Moroccan investigators and joined by Swiss bomb experts, has been in Beirut since February 24 gathering information on the killing.

The team visited the site of the blast again Tuesday accompanied by Lebanese bomb experts and Investigating Magistrate Michel Abu Arraj, who denied reports that the three meter deep crater caused by the explosion was being covered up.

Arraj insisted that the site would remain untouched so as to permit the still ongoing collection of evidence.

The UN delegation, which has refused to comment on its investigation, reportedly studied the surrounding damaged buildings so as to determine the type of explosives used in the attack. It also noted that asphalt on the side of the crater was fractured and raised, a possible indication that the bomb could have been located underground.

A number of security experts have insisted that the blast was caused by an underground bomb, although the government has said on several occasions that it believes the explosion was caused by a suicide car bomb.

Little headway has been made in the Lebanese authorities' investigation on Hariri's murder, prompting angry calls for the truth from the one million demonstrators gathered in Beirut Monday to commemorate the one-month anniversary of the attack.

British daily The Independent said on Monday that the UN team's report would reveal evidence of a cover-up by Syrian and Lebanese authorities.

"The UN investigators have become convinced that there was a cover-up of evidence at the very highest levels of the Lebanese and Syrian intelligence authorities," it said.

Veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk, based in Beirut, quoted no sources for his report but said President George W. Bush "is expected to announce on Wednesday that Syrian - and perhaps Lebanese - military intelligence officers were involved" in the killing.

Yet the White House denied any knowledge of the UN's findings Monday.

"I have no idea where that report came from," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "It's important that the assassination of the former prime minister, Mr. Hariri, be fully investigated. But the United Nations is continuing in their investigation, and we have not seen any update on that and any final results of that investigation."

A spokeswoman for the White House told The Daily Star that President Bush would not be making a statement on Lebanon Wednesday.

The United Nations confirmed that any announcement on the findings of its team would only be made by Annan.

"Any public announcement pertaining to the results of the investigations led by the UN team will be made exclusively through the secretary general's report to the Security Council" a UN source told The Daily Star.

Fisk also reported that the billionaire businessman's two elder sons, Bahaa and Saad, had received warnings that they could be potential assassination targets and had fled the country as a result.

Without denying the threats, Fouad Siniora, a former finance minister in Hariri's governments and now the family's senior adviser, said in a statement that Bahaa and Saad left Beirut to tend to their companies abroad.

The Lebanese opposition has blamed the explosion on the pro-Syrian regime and Damascus, a charge denied by both governments.

The Lebanese authorities agreed to cooperate with the UN commission of inquiry but rejected a full international probe into the assassination.

Lahoud on Tuesday reiterated his "determination to uncover the perpetrators and those who ordered" the attack and bring them to justice.

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Beirut 16-03-2005
Marianne Stigset
The Daily Star

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