The United Nations commission established to investigate the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri became fully operational today, marking the official start of its efforts to find out who was behind the murder which led ultimately to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from its smaller neighbour.
The Security Council set up the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) on 7 April to probe the bomb attack which killed Mr. Hariri and 20 others after an initial UN fact-finding mission found Lebanon's own probe seriously flawed and declared Syria, with its troop presence, primarily responsible for the political tension preceding the assassination.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan informed the Council in a letter today of the Commission's status. Its three-month term can be extended for up to three additional months at the discretion of the Secretary-General.
Commission head Detlev Mehlis arrived in Beirut on 26 May and immediately began talks with the Lebanese authorities regarding operations. He and the Government of Lebanon concluded a memorandum of understanding this week. Since his arrival, Mr. Mehlis and his team have been reviewing materials and evidence collected by other investigations and inquiries.
Mr. Hariri's assassination in February led to renewed calls for the withdrawal of all Syrian troops and intelligence agents who had been in Lebanon since the early stages of the country's 1975-1990 civil war.
Terje Roed-Larsen, Mr. Annan's Special Envoy for the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559, which calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, disbanding all militias and extending Government control over the whole country, carried out a series of shuttle missions culminating in a Syrian troop withdrawal in April.
Mr. Annan told reporters today that Mr. Roed-Larsen, on his latest visit after reports that there were other elements that may have gone back to Lebanon, received assurances from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "that they are prepared to work with us to fully implement [resolution] 1559, and we are going to maintain the engagement."
A UN team that in May verified the Syrian withdrawal except for the intelligence apparatus, which it said was by its clandestine nature not verifiable, is now back in the region. "I hope that, at the end of the day, we will be able to give a report that will indicate what is happening or not happening," Mr. Annan said. "And it is important for all concerned that they respect resolution 1559."