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French Version

Brammertz will do his 'utmost to satisfy victims' families'

Serge Brammertz, the new head of the UN probe investigating the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri met with Lebanese Premier Fouad Siniora on Friday, after pledging to be impartial and independent when conducting the investigations.

Sources had reported Friday that Brammertz discussed his investigation's work-plan with Siniora during the meeting, yet the reports were refuted shortly afterward.

"The meeting was just for acquaintance; the premier and Brammertz didn't discuss the UN probe's work plan" sources close to Siniora told The Daily Star Friday.

"The premier doesn't interfere in the course of investigations," added the sources.

Brammertz, a Belgian deputy prosecutor at the International Criminal Court who arrived in Beirut Thursday afternoon, will be handling one of the toughest murder cases in the region.

The case is complicated as the international investigations into the "terrorist crime" had revealed that there was at least a Syrian link to the crime, according to Detlev Mehlis, the former head of the UN probe.

Damascus, which is accused by many Lebanese politicians for the murder, continues to deny any role in the terrorist crime.Syrian President Bashar Assad is expected to speak of the issue and of the mounting international pressures on Syria in this matter Saturday. Assad will be delivering his speech in front of the Arab-Lawyers' Convention in Damascus.

Upon his arrival, Brammertz told reporters he would do his "utmost to meet the expectations" of the victims' families.

Syria "is going to cooperate and cooperate fully" with Brammertz, UN chief Kofi Annan said late Thursday.

He said he "has not spoken to President Assad lately but Syrian Foreign Minister (Farouq al-Sharaa) called me ... to assure me that his government is going

to cooperate fully with the new prosecutor, and they look forward to meeting with him as soon as is practicable."

Annan added: "I urged them to cooperate without reservation, and they did give me the assurance that they will."

The UN probe had asked Damascus to "interview" Assad, Sharaa, and other Syrian citizens and officials, but only Sharaa was given the green light to go through with such an interview.

When asked if Assad would submit himself to such an interview, Annan replied: "I think this is something Brammertz is going to look into once he is there."

Yet Brammertz's task would be hard as Assad had declared he would not meet the probe's investigators as he enjoys the immunity given the president of a country by international law.

Amid mounting international pressure on Damascus to cooperate with the UN probe, several countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have exerted their "good offices" to find a way out of the deadlock.

The good offices were also practiced in an attempt to bridge the gap in the Lebanese-Syrian relations which suffered from the continuous two-way flow of accusations after the murder.

Meanwhile, Mehlis is expected to arrive in Beirut on Saturday to officially hand over the leadership of the UN probe to Brammertz.

Beirut 23-01-2006
Leila Hatoum
The Daily Star

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