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Ban Ki-moon may dispatch UN official to meeting on Lebanese political crisis

Ban Ki-moon may dispatch UN official to meeting on Lebanese political crisis

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today he would send the United Nations’ legal chief if needed to a planned international meeting to try to end the continuing political impasse in Lebanon, adding it was crucial that the country set up a special tribunal as soon as possible to try the suspected killers of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

“I hope through these meetings the Lebanese Government and people will be able to take the necessary constitutional procedures” to ratify the agreement creating the proposed tribunal, Mr. Ban told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York after briefing the Security Council on his recent trip to the Middle East.

Mr. Ban said Lebanon’s parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, who has invited Saudi Arabia to organize some consultation meetings in a bid to resolve the deadlock, had also asked if UN Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel could attend. In February, on behalf of the UN, Mr. Michel signed the agreement with Lebanon to set up the tribunal, but it must still be ratified by the Lebanese Parliament to enter into force.

“If it is agreeable to the parties, I am willing to dispatch Mr. Nicolas Michel to that conference,” the Secretary-General said, stressing that it was “crucially important” to establish the tribunal at an early date.

Yesterday Mr. Ban received a letter from 70 Lebanese lawmakers asking him to act under the UN Charter to set up a special tribunal given the continuing deadlock in the Lebanese Parliament. Many of the lawmakers have been calling for a parliamentary session to be convened so that they can vote on the proposed tribunal.

Asked by journalists whether the UN might go ahead and formally establish the tribunal itself, Mr. Ban said he preferred to see first how the situation unfolds given the potential meeting hosted by Saudi Arabia.

During his visit to Lebanon late last month as part of his Middle Eastern trip Mr. Ban voiced disappointment that the country’s five-month political crisis, which has led to an opposition walk-out from Parliament and mass demonstrations, had not been resolved.

The planned special tribunal in Lebanon will be of “an international character” to deal with the assassination of Mr. Hariri, who was killed along with 22 others in a massive car bombing in downtown Beirut in February 2005.

A senior UN official told journalists yesterday in New York that it would be ultimately up to the tribunal to determine whether other political killings in Lebanon since October 2004 were connected to Mr. Hariri’s assassination and could therefore be dealt with by the tribunal.

In April 2004 the Security Council set up the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) after an earlier UN mission found that Lebanon’s own inquiry into the Hariri assassination was seriously flawed and that Syria was primarily responsible for the political tensions that preceded the attack. Its mandate runs out next year.

Serge Brammertz, the current head of the IIIC, told the Council last September that evidence obtained so far suggests that a young, male suicide bomber, probably non-Lebanese, detonated up to 1,800 kilograms of explosives inside a van to assassinate Mr. Hariri.

Meanwhile, during his briefing to the Council today, Mr. Ban spoke about recent developments in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the strife-torn Darfur region, Iraq and Somalia.

He also discussed his recent report to the Council on the implementation of resolution 1701, which ended last year’s 34-day war between Hizbollah and Israel.