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UN considers extending Hariri probe
Updated: 2005-10-18 11:01

The U.N. Security Council has discussed extending the probe into the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister if an upcoming report on the slaying leaves any questions unanswered, a senior diplomat said Monday.

The lead investigator of the probe, Detlev Mehlis, is expected to turn in his report on the killing of Rafik Hariri by the end of this week. The Lebanese opposition has accused Syria of playing a role in Hariri's Feb. 14 death in a car bombing, allegations Damascus repeatedly has denied.

The council may ask Mehlis to continue working until the end of the year if necessary if "new questions" arise, said Romanian Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, whose nation holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council for October.

Ungureanu refused to speculate on what further questions the council might have for Mehlis.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said earlier Monday he is determined to keep the upcoming report from fanning tensions between Lebanon and Syria. He stressed that the report will be of a technical nature.

That apparently means that Mehlis will be under orders to stick to the facts of Hariri's death and resist speculation on motives or the political climate surrounding the bombing.

"I know there has been lots of political commentary and lots of discussions about it but from where I sit, I'm determined to make it as technical as possible and not allow a politicization of the process," Annan said.

Mehlis has named four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals as suspects and questioned seven Syrian officials, one of whom — Interior Minister Ghazi Kenaan — committed suicide last week.

Annan said there had been no "serious discussion" of widening the probe to investigate Kenaan's suicide, and Ungureanu said he had heard nothing of the sort either.

On Thursday, Lebanon's government requested that the probe be prolonged until Dec. 15. Annan, who could recommend such an extension to the council, said he will wait to answer the request until after he gets the report.

Hariri's death led to demonstrations against Syria and magnified the international pressure on Damascus to withdraw its troops, which it eventually did. The Security Council approved a probe into Hariri's assassination on April 8.

Annan gave the probe a three-month mandate when it began its work on June 16 but said it could be extended for three more months if necessary. In August, Mehlis received an extension beyond the original Sept. 15 deadline.

Also Monday, French police announced the arrest of a former Syrian intelligence officer who was accused of giving false testimony to Mehlis' probe. Mohammed Zuhair Al-Siddiq was detained on a Lebanese warrant on Sunday and was likely to be extradited.

Details of the claims against him were not clear. The Beirut newspaper Al-Mustaqbal alleged that Al-Siddiq was an accomplice in the planning and execution of the bombing that killed Hariri. The newspaper is owned by the Hariri family.

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