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French Version

UN investigator waits to interview Syrian officials

As UN investigators await the opportunity to question Syrian officials, the deadline looms for the preliminary report on the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, due in 10 days, and Lebanese officials again warn of further assassinations of Lebanese politicians.

"The Syrians have agreed in principle to cooperate with Detlev Mehlis but he has yet to receive an official Syrian response to visit the country," said UN spokesman Najib Friji in a press conference, dismissing earlier reports that Mehlis, head of the UN commission of inquiry, had interrogated Syria's former intelligence officials in Lebanon by correspondence.

"Detlev Mehlis needs to directly interview Syrian officials concerned. He needs to visit Syria for this purpose," said Friji.

Reports circulated over the weekend that Mehlis sent a letter to the Syrian government requesting meetings with Syria's former intelligence chief in Beirut, General Rustom Ghazaleh, General Mohammad Khallouf and Syrian General Jamaa Jamaa in connection with the case. According to the reports, Mehlis suggested that the meetings be held either in Beirut at the Movenpick Hotel, at a UN office in Damascus or at Syria's own military offices.

Mehlis has already questioned the head of the Lebanese presidential guard Mustafa Hamdan.

The investigation team is expected to submit a preliminary report on their findings to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on August 25. As indicated by Premier Fouad Siniora, Mehlis may seek a three to six week extension of the September 15 deadline from Annan before ending the investigation.

Four experts from the UN commission were seen on Saturday surveying the bomb site where Hariri was killed on February 14. They left the area carrying sacks of evidence.

Several prominent leaders have expressed concern that further assassinations are planned, due to the lack of security in Lebanon.

Kesrouan MP Michel Aoun announced Sunday that he has information that "four Lebanese leaders" are marked for assassination: three Muslims and a Christian - "myself."

"I am aware that any foreign or domestic intelligence apparatus, or any disgruntled side, can assassinate one of these figures," said Aoun in statement, indicating he will be tightening his personal security measures.

Aoun did not indicate where

he got his information and did not name the three other political figures at risk, but said that these assassinations "will kindle a nationwide insurrection."

Opposition leaders have implicated Syria in Hariri's assassination and in the subsequent killings of journalist Samir Kassir and politician George Hawi. Syria dominated Lebanese internal politics and security for 30 years, until its troops withdrew in April following mass anti-Syrian street protests and intense international pressure.

Cabinet has failed to appoint chiefs to the state's most crucial security positions. But security sources told The Daily Star Sunday that the much-debated and controversial security appointments could take place next Thursday in the Cabinet session.

The names suggested to replace former head of the Surete Generale Major General Jamil Sayyed were General Mahmoud Mattar or General Mohammed Mattar - both Shiites and unrelated. There had been a dispute between the different factions in Lebanon as to whether the post should go to a Maronite as per tradition. But that tradition was broken when Lahoud appointed Sayyed to the post. The name put forward for the head of State Security was General Simon Haddad.

Beirut 15-08-2005
Rym Ghazal
The Daily star

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