01/12/2006, 00.00
SYRIA – LEBANON – UNITED NATIONS
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Mehlis leaves, UN probe into Assad's role continues

by Youssef Hourany
People are eagerly waiting for the arrival of Serge Brammertz, the new head of the UN commission investigating the Hariri assassination. Annan is willing to cooperate in establishing an international tribunal. Damascus reiterates its refusal to see Assad interviewed.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhl-Allah confirmed his government's refusal to allow the UN investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri question Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In Beirut people are instead eagerly waiting for the arrival of Serge Brammertz in replacement of German judge Detlev Mehlis, who resigned as head of the UN Commission investigating Hariri's death. Brammertz, specialist in terrorism, arms trafficking and human rights, was named to the post yesterday by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The 43-year-old was born in Eupen (Belgium) and is a graduate in law and criminology from Belgian and German universities.

In his native Belgium, he was a federal prosecutor from 1997 to 2002 when he jointed the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague (Netherlands), and is considered a specialist in organising investigations and international legal cooperation.

As the ICC's deputy prosecutor he was involved in investigating atrocities committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Darfur (Sudan) and Uganda. As a prosecutor in his country's courts he was involved in war crimes committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

Naming Brammertz to head the commission was not Annan's only decision regarding Lebanon and Syria. The Secretary General is also planning to send a mission to Lebanon to help "identify the nature and scope of the international assistance needed for those charged with the crime to be tried by a tribunal of an international character," this according to his spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Together with a Brammertz, Annan will try to broaden the scope of the mission to Lebanon so as "to assist the Lebanese authorities to investigate other terrorist attacks since October 1, 2004," i.e. since Syria's withdrawal.

Lebanese authorities have in fact formally called for the establishment of an international tribunal to try those responsible for the February 14 attack that killed Hariri and another 20 people. They have also demanded a broader investigation into the political assassinations that followed Syria's pullout from Lebanon.

The naming of the new head of the international commission of inquiry comes at a time of mounting pressure on Syria to cooperate with the UN. France and the US are in particular demanding Syria comply with UN resolutions.

Whilst Mehlis said in an interview in Beirut with the daily Asharq al-Awsat that he was "perfectly convinced" of the responsibilities of Syrian authorities in the Hariri assassination, in the Lebanese capital people expect to see two former Syrian officials—former head of Syrian secret services Rostom Ghazali and his deputy in charge of the Mount Lebanon area Samih al-Kashaani—interviewed in Vienna. Both have been in Austria for the past two days.

The bird flu outbreak in neighbouring Turkey is causing additional concern in Syria, compounding international pressures in the Hariri affair,

Syrian authorities have taken strict measures and doubled border checks along its frontier with Turkey.

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