The United Nations envoy seeking the withdrawal of some thousands of Syrian troops from Lebanon discussed his mission with United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today on the eve of his return to the region.
Terje Roed-Larsen, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for implementation of Security Council resolution 1559, which calls for withdrawing all foreign forces from Lebanon, disbanding all militias and extending Government control over the whole country, leaves tomorrow for a one-week trip to finalize the report Mr. Annan is to deliver to the Council on 19 April.
Mr. Annan has said he expects the full withdrawal of all Syrian troops, including the intelligence apparatus and military assets, before Lebanese parliamentary elections scheduled for between mid-April and mid-May.
Yesterday he discussed the overall situation with the Security Council, and presented the 15-member body with the report of a UN inquiry mission into last month's assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Terming Lebanon's own probe seriously flawed and declaring Syria primarily responsible for the political tension preceding the murder, the report calls for an international independent investigation to uncover the truth.
"Without prejudice to the results of the investigation, it is obvious that this atmosphere provided the backdrop for the assassination of Mr. Hariri," the mission says, noting that Syria clearly exerted influence that went beyond the reasonable exercise of cooperative or neighbourly relations.
"It interfered with the details of governance in Lebanon in a heavy-handed and inflexible manner that was the primary reason for the political polarization that ensued," the report adds, also calling for a change in the Lebanese security leadership.
The mission, led by Peter Fitzgerald, a deputy Irish national police commissioner, was appointed by the Secretary-General after the Security Council requested him to report urgently on the circumstances, causes and consequences of the assassination on 14 February, which in addition to Mr. Hariri also killed 19 others.
In an accompanying letter, Mr. Annan endorsed the mission's recommendation, noting that the report raised "some very serious and troubling allegations."
"Lebanon is passing through a difficult and sensitive period. It is imperative that all concerned should behave with the utmost restraint," he added. "The future of Lebanon should be decided strictly through peaceful means."
The report says Lebanese security services and Syrian military intelligence bear primary responsibility for the lack of security, protection, and law and order in Lebanon, and the Lebanese for failing to provide acceptable security and thus contributing to a "culture of intimidation and impunity," with Syrian military intelligence sharing responsibility "to the extent of its involvement in running the security services in Lebanon."
Saying it is clear that the Lebanese inquiry process suffered from serious flaws, it calls for an international investigation probe. "It is, however, more than doubtful that such an investigation team could carry out its tasks satisfactorily – and receive the necessary active cooperation from local authorities – while the current leadership of the Lebanese security services remains in office," it adds.
The mission says that the restoration and credibility of the Lebanese security apparatus is "of vital importance to the security and stability" of the country, concluding that, "international and regional political support will be necessary to safeguard Lebanon's national unity and to shield its fragile polity from unwarranted pressure."