Continuing meetings in Beirut today, a senior United Nations official emphasized his confidence in Detlev Mehlis' investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and issued a renewed plea for Syria to cooperate fully with that probe so that the crime does not go unpunished.
At a news conference following his meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari said "there is no real option but for Syria to cooperate" with the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC).
Mr. Gambari refuted criticism of Mr. Mehlis, a German prosecutor. "The impression that Mehlis is obstinate and inflexible is not true," he said. "We have full confidence in Mehlis as an impartial, professional prosecutor and we see from all our conversations that everybody in Lebanon is committed to getting to the truth of what happened in the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri and others because the culture of impunity must not be allowed to stand."
On Security Council Resolution 1559, which outlined a number of priorities for Lebanon, such as the disbanding of militias, Mr. Gambari said several issues must yet be resolved. "We acknowledge that this has to be through a process that is led by Lebanon and through national dialogue without preconditions or artificial deadlines," he said.
Mr. Gambari also announced that the mandate of Geir Pederson, originally the Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Personal Representative for Southern Lebanon, has now been expanded to cover all of Lebanon and to encompass economic and social development issues, in addition to matters of peace and security.
The Under-Secretary-General said Mr. Annan had come to this decision "so that all the issues of sovereignty, of independence, of stability will be discussed in a coordinated manner."
At the same time, Mr. Gambari stressed this Mr. Pedersen will be playing a coordinating role and will not be substituting for other UN bodies carrying out mandates or replacing the UN agencies in Lebanon.
Looking to the broader picture, Mr. Gambari said, "The stability and the unity of Lebanon is not only good for the Lebanese but is good for the neighbouring countries, for the region and I believe for the world as a whole."