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French Version

Mehlis, Daoudi finalize plans to question Syrian officials

IDENTITY of five headed for vienna shrouded in secrecy

UN chief investigator Detlev Mehlis met with Syrian Foreign Ministry legal advisor Riad Daoudi in Lebanon and agreed on the final details for Tuesday's questioning of five Syrian officials in Vienna. According to security sources, Daoudi, who will accompany the five officials to Vienna, met with Mehlis for one hour on Sunday afternoon in Monteverde, the headquarters of the UN probe investigating the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

The sources added the five Syrian officials are expected to arrive in Vienna Monday afternoon and will be questioned by Mehlis on Tuesday.

Mehlis will leave Lebanon "in the next 24 hours" to interrogate the Syrian officials, the sources said Sunday evening.

Pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat revealed Sunday that Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah al Saud and the head of Saudi's National Security Council Prince Bandar had a hand in reaching an agreement on the location of the interrogations.

The paper quoted the king as saying Syrian President Bashar Assad wrote him three times, prompting the king to intervene and convince Mehlis to switch the place of interrogation from Lebanon to either Switzerland or Austria.

King Abdullah also said he sent Prince Bandar to Damascus to find a solution to the impasse.

After winning Assad's agreement, Prince Bandar visited Paris on November 7 and met with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who also agreed to the Saudi initiative.

The king said holding the investigation in Lebanon would have been an insult to Syria, which occupied Lebanon for 29 years.

He also told the paper Annan had agreed with Prince Bandar that Mehlis made a mistake in choosing Lebanon.

Mehlis had interrogated several Syrian officials in Damascus two months ago, but asked to interrogate several Syrian officials outside Damascus because he felt the statements were "predicated."

After a deadlock over where the Syrian officials would be questioned, Syria finally agreed on Friday to send its officials to Vienna, after receiving "guarantees" from Mehlis and a UN Security Council permanent member state, which was later identified as Russia.

The office of Lebanese Premier Fouad Siniora issued a statement on Saturday revealing he had received a call from Annan on Friday night informing him of "the agreement reached between Mehlis and Syria."

The statement said Siniora assured Annan of Lebanon's "complete faith in Mehlis and the work of the UN probe," and took advantage of the occasion to stress the importance of "easing the tension on Lebanon's southern borders through UN pressure on Israel."

Lebanese daily An-Nahar reported Sunday that "Damascus continues to shroud in secrecy the names of the five Syrian officials" to be interrogated in Vienna.

Conflicting reports have emerged over whether Assad's brother in law, Assef Shawkat, the head of Syria's overall intelligence apparatus, is among the five Syrian officials.

Lebanese media named six Syrians to be questioned: Shawkat and intelligence chiefs Bahjat Suleiman; Rustom Ghazaleh and his deputy Jamaa Jamaa; Abdul Karim Abbas, the head of Palestinian affairs; and telecommunications and Internet specialist Zafer Youssef.

Ghazaleh, Jamaa, Shawkat, and Suleiman were cited in witness testimony in the confidential version of Mehlis's report in October, implicating Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services in the Hariri murder.

But according to Al Hayat's report, Shawkat will not be among the five officials questioned in Vienna.

"None of the officials is top brass or a Cabinet member," a Syrian source said on Sunday.

"For now, the names don't include any serving or former head of any generic intelligence apparatus, but they include Ghazaleh, the former chief of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon," the source was quoted as saying.

The source further added Suleiman might not be one of the five officials.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Investigating Magistrate Elias Eid has summoned three Lebanese citizens from Sidon to give statements regarding Hariri's assassination. Among those summoned is Roqaya Bizri, the sister of Sidon Mayor Abdul Rahman Bizri.

Beirut 28-11-2005
Leila Hatoum
The Daily Star

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