12/14/2005, 00.00
UNITED NATIONS – SYRIA
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Unless Syria co-operates the Hariri inquiry might last years, says Mehlis

The German prosecutor heading the United Nations inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister accuses Syria of dragging its feet. Damascus denies, whilst its press claims the report is "full of errors, informed by international interests that seek the destruction of Syria".

New York (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The United Nations inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri could take "one or two" years unless Syria speeds up cooperation with the investigation, said Detlev Mehlis, the head of the probe.

The second report submitted to the United Nations Security Council stresses that in Syria the inquiry into the Hariri murder faced "much hesitation and procrastination".

Mr Mehlis said that co-operation with Damascus has improved but he is not sure this will continue.

He said Syria hesitated and dragged its feet to let his team interview five suspects in Vienna last week.

"At this rate the investigation might take another year or two," Mehlis said.

The German prosecutor said his team had found new evidence implicating Syria in the murder of Mr Hariri and 22 others last February in Beirut.

Among the facts uncovered there is specific evidence on how Syria's security apparatus controlled and manipulated security in Lebanon.

Moreover, there are strong suspicions that Damascus is pursuing a strategy of destabilisation in Lebanon by disturbing public order after every charge is laid against Syria.

Syria's UN ambassador Fayssal Mekdad told the UN Security Council his country vigorously denied it had anything to hide or had hindered the investigation.

Syria's press was even more forceful in its attacks against the UN report, which is largely viewed as being "full of errors, informed by international interests that seek the destruction of Syria."

Syrian media have not spared the German prosecutor, whom they have called "a merchant of words and lies, who filled the report with false witnesses and pre-prepared statements".

In his first report, Mehlis had pointed the finger at top Syrian officials as responsible for the Saint Valentine massacre.

At the same time the Security Council is considering a resolution that France, the United States and Britain are proposing to extend the Hariri investigation for another six months.

The draft would expand the commission's mandate, which expires tomorrow, to include investigations into the terrorist attacks perpetrated in Lebanon in the past 15 months, including the Gibran Tueni murder, and extend it till June 15, 2006.

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