U.N. may probe Hariri assassination again
France and the United States circulated a draft U.N. Security Council resolution Wednesday that would establish an international investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri after a U.N.-backed report criticized Lebanon's own probe.
The draft, now under discussion by experts from the 15 Security Council members, comes less than a week after a U.N. report said the Lebanese probe did not meet international standards and called for an entirely new one by an outside team. The U.N. report was prepared by a team of investigators led by deputy Irish police commissioner Peter Fitzgerald.
Hariri's Feb. 14 killing caused an uproar in Lebanon, sparking massive anti-Syrian street protests that forced the pro-Syrian Beirut government to resign. The Lebanese opposition claimed Syria orchestrated the killing and demanded Damascus end its interference in Lebanese politics and withdraw all of its thousands of troops from the country. Syria denies any involvement.
The United Nations and the United States are also demanding a full Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon within the next two months.
According to the draft resolution, the fresh investigation would help Lebanon pursue "all aspects of this terrorist act, including to help identify its perpetrators, sponsors, organizers and accomplices."
It would require that the investigators be allowed to interview anyone they want and collect whatever evidence they need. The team would also be given freedom of movement in Lebanon, "including access to all sites and facilities that the commission deems relevant to the inquiry."
The U.N. report did not directly blame Syria for the assassination of Hariri, an opponent of the Syrian presence in Lebanon. But it said Damascus was behind the political tension and weak security that led to his death.
Syria has had massive political influence in Lebanon since it sent troops into the country in 1976. Under intense international pressure, Syria has now cut back the number of its troops from 14,000 at the time of Hariri's assassination to 8,000 and has promised to work out their complete removal with President Emile Lahoud's pro-Syrian government in Beirut.
Diplomats said there was widespread support for the resolution among council members and a vote was expected sometime next week. But an initial concern, they said, was ensuring Lebanese judicial authorities do something with the findings.
Last week, Lebanon accepted that the United Nations should take charge of appointing an investigation into the assassination.
The draft asks Secretary-General Kofi Annan to consult urgently with the Lebanese government to facilitate the establishment of "an international independent investigation commission."