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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced Friday he is sending the UN legal chief to Beirut next week to try to break an impasse and get Lebanese government approval for an international tribunal to prosecute suspects in the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Ban Ki-moon told reporters after discussing the Lebanese problem with members of the UN Security Council at their monthly lunch that Undersecretary-General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel would try "to clarify all concerns or apprehensions" so Lebanon's political leaders can ratify the tribunal.
Lebanon's pro-Syrian Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has refused to convene parliament to ratify the tribunal. Last week, 70 of parliament's 128 members signed a memorandum demanding UN Security Council action to establish the tribunal, and this week Lebanon's anti-Syrian Prime Minister Fuad Saniora sent a letter to Ban also asking the council to authorize the tribunal because of "unjustified difficulties."
Lebanon's opposition Hizbullah, which is pro-Syrian, has warned that Saniora's seeking international intervention would threaten Lebanon's security and stability. Its deputy leader, Sheik Naim Kassem, warned this week that a UN-imposed tribunal will be "a court against Lebanon and not to try the killers of premier Hariri."
Ban told reporters Thursday that the issue of how to proceed with the tribunal has not been discussed yet in the council, and he was still studying the letters. It was clear that the outcome of Michel's trip, which Ban said will start Monday, will play a key role in Ban's decision - along with his own visit to Syria on April 24.
"I sincerely hope that his visit will help the political leaders of Lebanon in their efforts to proceed (with) constitutional procedures to ratify so that the special tribunal can be established as soon as possible," Ban said. "At the same time I would urge again that the leaders of the Lebanese government will engage in all-inclusive political dialogue to promote national reconciliation."
Hariri and 22 others were killed by a bomb in Beirut on Feruary. 14, 2005 and the Security Council authorized a commission to investigate the assassinations.
A 2005 report by a former chief investigator implicated Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services in Hariri's assassination. Syria denied any involvement but was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, ending a 29-year presence. Four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals, accused of involvement in Hariri's murder, have been under arrest for 15 months.
Michel, who helped draft the treaty to establish the tribunal, stressed to reporters that the United Nations has no intention of getting involved in "the internal controversy" in Lebanon.
"I'm going to go there, offer my good offices on behalf of the secretary-general, and let the parties understand that they had expressed the wish to establish a tribunal and we are there to try to achieve that seriously with them in due time," he said.
"It is certainly an open-minded, open hearted effort to seriously achieve an agreement," Michel said.
"We simply want to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to share his or her proposals, and make sure that at the end we have a broad support in the country for the establishment of the tribunal," he said.
If there are "very convincing arguments that we can improve" the treaty establishing the tribunal, Michel said, "then we'll see what can be done, but this will have to be brought to my attention in the course of my presence in Lebanon."
Michel said he intends to report to the Security Council when he returns to New York and it will be up to council members to make any decisions on future action.
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