A day after naming four more high-level suspects, the United Nations inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri announced today that it would seek an extension of its three-month mandate to complete its work.
The head of the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC), Detlev Mehlis, told a news conference in Beirut the inquiry had made progress on several fronts but the case was not closed.
The Commission, which became fully operational on 16 June, was set up by the Security Council on 7 April to probe the February 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 troops present in its smaller neighbour, primarily responsible for the political tension preceding the assassination.
It was given an initial mandate of three months from the date of starting its work, but Secretary-General Kofi Annan can extend it for a further period not exceeding three months.
Yesterday, the Commission named three former heads of Lebanese intelligence and security agencies and a former member of Parliament as suspects. They were interviewed and their homes were searched. A fifth man, a general who was previously declared a suspect, was summoned for a second interview.
“Both the Commission and the Lebanese judiciary are presently reviewing and assessing their statements,” Mr. Mehlis said today.
“In the meantime, the presumption of innocence stands and the rights of the suspects are fully preserved,” he added, repeating earlier calls for assistance from third countries to, among other things, interview their nationals.
Mr. Hariri's assassination 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. Syria withdrew its troops in April.