UNSC may extend Hariri probe mandate

Lead investigator expected this week to turn in report on the assassination.

assad 88 (photo credit: )
assad 88
(photo credit: )
The UN 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. The probe's lead investigator, 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 that killed 20 other people, allegations Damascus repeatedly has denied. The council may ask Mehlis to continue working until the end of the year if necessary, said Romanian Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, whose nation holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council for October. "In case the presentation would give way to new questions that would require very specific answers on technical details, these answers would be due by the end of the year," Ungureanu told The Associated Press in an interview. Ungureanu refused to speculate on what questions the council might have for Mehlis. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said earlier Monday that he is determined to keep the upcoming report from being politicized, amid fears that it could fan tensions between Lebanon and Syria. Using similar language as Ungureanu, 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 told reporters 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 a move to the council, said he will not respond to the Lebanese request for a two-month extension until after he receives Mehlis' report. "Let me say that I have spoken to Mehlis, but I will wait for his full report to be able to make a judgment whether to extend the mandate or not," Annan said. "And if we do extend the mandate, what specifically will it entail and what will they need to do." Hariri's death led to massive 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 had requested and 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.