U.N.: Lebanon's Hariri probe unsatisfactory
A U.N. report into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri concluded that Lebanon's probe of the killing was riddled with flaws and an international investigation is needed.
The report, released Thursday, does not directly assign blame, saying the causes could not be determined. But it says Syrian military intelligence shares responsibility to the extent that it and Lebanese security services failed to provide "security, protection, law and order" in Lebanon.
The report says there was a "distinct lack of commitment" by Lebanese authorities to investigate the crime, and the probe was not carried out "in accordance with acceptable international standards."
In Beirut, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud responded by saying he had told U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to do "what is necessary" to learn who was behind the Feb. 14 killing.
Hariri died in a blast in central Beirut that killed 17 other people. The Lebanese opposition has blamed Syria and its Lebanese allies, who have both denied any involvement.
"It is clear that the assassination took place in a political and security context marked by an accute polarization around the Syrian influence in Lebanon," the report said.
The opposition and Hariri's family have insisted on an international investigation, saying they have no trust in the Lebanese probe. The report reflected that sentiment, saying the Lebanese investigation "lacks the confidence of the population necessary for its results to be accepted."
In Washington, the State Department supported the recommendation for an international commission to investigate the attack.
"The report once again makes clear the importance of immediate and full withdrawal of all Syrian military and intelligence forces from Lebanon, in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559," Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said. "The Lebanese people deserve a government capable of leading them forward to prompt, free and fair elections, without foreign interference and in the presence of international observers."
Hariri's killing led to political turmoil in Lebanon. Mass demonstrations forced the resignation of the Lebanese government and intensified the international campaign for Syria to withdraw its troops from the country.
Syria has now pulled back its troops and intelligence agents into eastern Lebanon toward the border and has been promising to work out their complete removal with the pro-Syrian government in Beirut.
The report is from an investigation carried out by team led by deputy Irish Police Commissioner Peter Fitzgerald, appointed at the behest of the U.N. Security Council.
In a letter accompanying the report, Annan endorsed the recommendation for a new investigation.
In his report, Fitzgerald also faults Syria for interfering in the governing of Lebanon "in a heavy-handed and inflexible manner." He said his investigators also received testimony that Syrian President Bashar Assad had threatened Hariri and leading opposition figure Walid Jumblatt with physical harm.
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad rejected the report, saying it contained "too much rhetoric." He again denied his country had any role in Hariri's assassination.
Fayssal called Hariri a "great ally of Syria" and instead blamed the U.N. Security Council for passing resolution 1559, which demands Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon.
"We think that things were going on well in Lebanon until a certain development that has taken place here in this building when one, two countries pushed the council to adopt a resolution that was not called for," Mekdad said from the United Nations in New York.
The report went on to demand an international independent commission with the authority to interrogate witnesses, conduct searches and other tasks. Fitzgerald said such an inquiry would be impossible without Lebanon's cooperation.
The U.N. Security Council may now take up the issue. It would have to approve a resolution seeking a new investigation, and would most likely ask Annan to appoint a new team.
"I expect the council to support the idea that there should be an independent investigation," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said.
The report also said it was doubtful that a proper investigation could be carried out with the current Lebanese security apparatus in office.
The pro-Syrian Lebanese government has previously rejected an international inquiry, saying it would cooperate with foreign investigators but it was a matter of national sovereignty not to allow an international probe.
But a statement from the Lebanese president's office late Thursday said Annan spoke to Lahoud and informed him of the broad outlines of the report presented by a U.N. fact-finding team sent to Lebanon after the bombing.
The report said the explosion was caused by a ton of TNT, most likely above the ground.
Members of the opposition praised the report. "It conforms totally with the political vision of the Lebanese opposition," said Ghattas Khoury, a lawmaker from Hariri's parliamentary bloc.