03/16/2007, 00.00
LEBANON
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UN probe: Lahoud among causes for Hariri murder

by Paul Dakiki
UN Commission report suggests that the extension of the presidential term was a factor that led to the assassination. It also confirms progress in the investigation, acknowledges Syrian cooperation and says its mandate should be extended.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The extension of President Emile Lahoud's term in 2004 was one of the motives behind the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, this according to a report by a UN commission investigating the assassination.

The commission, headed by Belgian judge Serge Brammertz, has been investigating the February 2005 killing of Hariri and 22 others in a massive bomb blast in Beirut as well as 16 other political crimes and their possible connection.

Its 20-page document was released yesterday in New York and now goes to the Security Council for approval.

The commission reported “progress in collecting new evidence and in expanding the forms of evidence collected” and described Syria’s cooperation in the investigation as “satisfactory.”

In his previous report, it had criticised the slow response of 10 unidentified countries in responding to his requests but as a result of meetings with the ambassadors from the countries concerned it said “almost all outstanding matters were resolved to the commission's satisfaction.”

The Commission is now getting ready to interview 50 people from its list of 250 witnesses and is working on setting up the international tribunal that is expected to sit in judgment of those who will be called to account. For this reason it wants its mandate extended beyond the June deadline.

Unlike previous reports when top Syrian officials were said to be involved, this one does not name anyone.

Understanding of the facts relating to Hariri assassination has progressed. In fact, the report indicates that there were several motives to kill Hariri: the inception of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 (which calls for the respect of Lebanon’s sovereignty, withdrawal of foreign troops, disarmament of local militias and free and fair presidential elections) and the political implications of its implementation; the extension of the term of President Émile Lahoud; the personal and political dynamics which existed between Hariri and other political parties and leaders in Lebanon, Syria, and other countries; the preparation and manoeuvring ahead of the parliamentary elections due to be held in may 2005, as well as other business matters in which he was involved.

For Brammertz, it is “likely that a combination of these factors may have created the environment in which the motive and intent to kill him arose.”

The Commission is focusing its investigation on the truck used in the blast, i.e. its place of provenance, the path it took and how it was wired. It is also looking into six SIM cellphone cards that were found. It does not however give much credence to the video-taped claim of responsibility by a man, Ahmad Abu Adass, who has since disappeared.

The Commission, which is also looking into 16 violent episodes that occurred between October 2004 (attempt against Marwan Hamade’s life) and February 13, 2007 (Ain Alak bus bombing), acknowledged that Lebanese authorities have provided their full cooperation, including in determining whether they various attacks are linked.

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