UN investigators interview Lebanese president
Updated: 2005-11-12 09:35
U.N. investigators interviewed Lebanon's president on Friday about the
assassination of a former prime minister — the first time the U.N. commission
has received testimony from a head of state since it began collecting evidence
Chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis has said President Emile Lahoud is not
a suspect in the Feb. 14 truck bombing that killed Prime Minister Rafik Hariri
and 20 others on a Beirut street. But a suspect made a call to the president's
phone minutes before the blast, according to the U.N. commission's interim
report last month.
Four Lebanese generals, all pro-Syrian, are under arrest and charged with
Hariri's murder after the U.N. commission named them as suspects. One of the
generals is the commander of the presidential guard and two others are close to
On Friday evening, two investigators came to the presidential palace in
Baabda to meet with Lahoud, the president's office said.
"The president informed (the investigators) of the accurate information
pertaining to what has been reported about phone calls to the presidential
palace before and after the crime, in addition to rumors relating to the crime
that were carried by the media," the presidential statement said.
The president's office has denied Lahoud received a call from a suspect
minutes before the explosion.
Officials close to the U.N. investigation said the investigators asked the
president about communications and the chain of command in his office. The
meeting lasted more than an hour, the officials said, speaking on condition of
anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
By contrast, the commission's request to interview President Bashar Assad of
Syria was refused, according to the report last month.
Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council upgraded the powers of the
commission. It gave Mehlis, a German prosecutor, the right to interview anybody
and to select the venue and conditions. The council also resolved that Syria
must cooperate fully with the commission and warned of further action if it
failed to do so.
The killing of Hariri, who was regarded as a quiet opponent of Syrian
influence in Lebanon, was a turning point in modern Lebanese history. It
provoked mass demonstrations against Syria and magnified the international
pressure on Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
In April, fewer than three months after the murder, Syria withdrew its
forces, ending a 29-year military domination of its western neighbor.
Lahoud, a political enemy of Hariri, has supported the U.N. investigation. He
has repeatedly denied any role in the murder and called for the culprits to be
However, his being interviewed by the commission is likely to strengthen
calls from politicians and newspapers opposed to Syria for Lahoud to resign. The
demand for his resignation has intensified since Syrian forces withdrew and the
arrest of the four generals in August.
Lahoud has refused to step down, and enjoys the support of the influential
Maronite Church, of which he is a member. He is also backed by a prominent
Christian leader as well as the Amal and Hezbollah groups, which represent the
Shiite Muslims, the country's largest community.