United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today condemned in the strongest terms the "brutal murder" of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and a number of others, and called on all Lebanese to exercise utmost restraint so as not to further destabilize the already fragile situation in the region.
The 15-member Security Council also condemned the assassination and sought a briefing from the Secretariat on the situation.
"Mr. Hariri's death is an immense loss to Lebanon, the region and the international community," Mr. Annan said in a statement issued by his spokesman.
"He will always be remembered for his dedication to the people of Lebanon, for his success as a statesman and a businessman, for his great achievements in the reconstruction of Lebanon after a long and ugly conflict, and for his courage and directness in public and in private," he added, referring to the 1975-1990 civil war.
"The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms those who instigated, planned and executed this callous political assassination," the statement said. "Such acts are a reversion to a chapter in Lebanon's history that he had hoped was long past. It is imperative that the already fragile situation in the region should not be further destabilized."
He urged "all Lebanese to exercise utmost restraint, and to use peaceful means in support of their national aspiration to full sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity."
Last week, Mr. Annan's envoy on the withdrawal of foreign troops from Lebanon, Terje Roed-Larsen, made his first visit to the Middle East region since his appointment in December. Mr. Roed Larsen is officially known as the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the implementation of resolution 1559, which was adopted last September and called for the withdrawal of all remaining foreign forces from Lebanon, disbanding all militias and extending Government control over the whole country, met with an array of senior government officials.
In an initial report in October on the resolution, Mr. Annan said that aside from a UN peacekeeping force, the only significant foreign forces in Lebanon were Syrian. He said Syria indicated it had some 14,000 troops still inside Lebanon stationed near the border, and that it had redeployed about 3,000 other forces.