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UN legal chief holds talks in Beirut over Hariri tribunal impasse

UN legal chief holds talks in Beirut over Hariri tribunal impasse

The United Nations Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel has held talks with Lebanon’s key Government and parliamentary leaders as he continues his visit to try to help the country’s political forces end their impasse and establish a tribunal to try the alleged killers of former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Mr. Michel has met Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, President Emile Lahoud and Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri, as well as other parliamentarians and political figures since arriving in Beirut on Tuesday, UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters today.

All of Mr. Michel’s interlocutors have expressed their support for the tribunal’s establishment, Ms. Montas said, adding that the Legal Counsel has stressed in the meetings that it is in the interest of all to have the tribunal set up within Lebanon’s constitutional process.

Mr. Michel was dispatched to Beirut by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to offer legal assistance to the Lebanese as they work towards parliamentary ratification of the agreement on setting up the tribunal. Such ratification is necessary for the tribunal to enter into force.

Mr. Ban said last week that he hoped Mr. Michel’s trip would help to “clarify all concerns or apprehensions” that might exist about the tribunal. Lebanon’s parliamentary forces have been deadlocked on the issue and there has been no vote yet on ratification.

Mr. Michel, who is also Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, is scheduled to hold further meetings in Beirut tomorrow.

The planned tribunal 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.

Once it is formally established, it will be 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 2005 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.