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French Version

Mehlis discusses interrogation locale with Syrian official

Al-Hayat daily claims U.S. letter demanded that Annan cease interfering in international mission

UN investigator Detlev Mehlis met with the Syrian Foreign Ministry's legal adviser Riad Daoudi in Barcelona, Spain on Friday to "discuss where six top Syrian officers would be questioned," according to a UN official.

UN chief Kofi Annan's spokesperson Stephane Dujarric spoke of the meeting with Mehlis, the chief investigator into the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, and Daoudi late Thursday, saying Syria's proposals on the whereabouts of the interrogation place, among other issues, would be discussed.

Dujarric, who denied Annan worked as a mediator between the UN probe and Syria, said he hoped the meeting "would erase differences" over the possible location.

Annan spoke with Syrian President Bashar Assad over the phone earlier in the week in an attempt to convince Syria to cooperate with the UN probe, according to a UN spokesperson.

However, Al-Hayat reported Friday that Washington had sent a letter to Annan demanding he stop interfering in Mehlis' mission or hindering it, but UN officials denied any knowledge of such a letter.

A U.S. official confirmed that a message had in fact been delivered to Annan urging him to stop mediating in the issue, however, he claimed the request had been verbal.

Assad himself has sent letters to several members of the UN Security Council explaining Syria's position and willingness to cooperate.

Mehlis and Daoudi had already met secretly in Lebanon on November 9 when the Syrian delivered his country's proposals.

Damascus had proposed that Mehlis question its officers at the UN offices in the Golan Heights, or in the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo, but Mehlis refused, insisting on interrogating the officers in Lebanon.

Syria continues to reject Lebanon as a possible location saying such a move would stir demonstrations and chaos in its tiny neighbor.

Damascus has also demanded guarantees that its officers, if questioned abroad, would not be detained or arrested.

The offices of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights are under Syrian control, and were set up after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war to maintain the cease-fire between Israel and Syria. The zone is off limits to the armed forces of both sides.

The Al-Hayat daily reported Friday that Damascus had also proposed Mehlis use a UN

aircraft to travel from his residence in Lebanon to the UN headquarters in the Golan Heights.

"Moscow seems convinced of the UN headquarters in the Golan Heights as an option,

which leads to paving the way for Mehlis' acceptance of it," reported Al Hayat.

Meanwhile, the name of Syria's Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa emerged as "the only Syrian witness whom Mehlis wants to question," according to Arabic daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, labeling the remaining six officers to be interrogated as suspects.

One of the six officers Mehlis insists on interrogating is Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat.

Shawkat was appointed as the head of Syria's overall intelligence apparatus shortly after Hariri's assassination. According to security sources, Mehlis is expected back in Lebanon during the weekend.

Beirut 21-11-2005
Leila Hatoum
The Daily Star

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