October 13, 2005

Syria prepares low key funeral for minister

By Suleiman al-Khalidi

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi
Kanaan's body was moved to his hometown on Thursday for a
low-key funeral, a day after he killed himself with a bullet to
the brain.

Damascus Attorney General Mohammed al-Loji said forensic
examinations and a probe of his office had concluded that he
shot himself in the mouth with his own pistol in his office.

He said Kanaan's assistant had heard a faint shot and
entered the major-general's office to find him lying on the
floor behind his desk, still breathing, with his pistol in his
hand. He died in hospital.

Syrian newspapers reported Kanaan's death on their front
pages but ventured no motive for his apparent suicide, three
weeks after he was questioned by U.N. investigators probing the
assassination of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik

In line with the tradition of Syria's state-controlled
media, dailies gave prominence to remarks by President Bashar
al-Assad, this time a CNN interview in which he said Syria was
not involved in Hariri's killing and that he could never have
ordered it.

The death of Kanaan, Syria's top official in neighboring
Lebanon for 20 years until 2002, came little over a week before
U.N. investigators are due to present their findings on
Hariri's February killing in a massive bomb blast in Beirut.

Already under pressure from the United States which accuses
it of allowing fighters into Iraq, Syria has grown increasingly
nervous over Lebanese and international charges it is linked to
Hariri's death.


In his first reference to the possibility that Damascus
might cooperate with a potential international tribunal into
Hariri's murder, Assad told CNN if the killing was carried out
without his knowledge the culprit would be tried for treason.

"If it happened then it's treason," Assad said, hours
before news of Kanaan's death broke. "If (Syrians) are
implicated they should be punished. International (court) or
Syrian, whatever."

An ambulance adorned with flowers took Kanaan's body from
the private Shami hospital in central Damascus to his
birthplace of Bhamra, in northern Syria, where he will be
buried later on Thursday, witnesses said.

Senior military and security officials along with Prime
Minister Naji al-Otari and Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara
were present at the hospital to pay their respects before the
body left in a convoy of cars for his final resting place.

According to Muslim tradition, victims of suicide are given
low key funerals.

Around an hour before he died, the 63-year-old called Voice
of Lebanon radio to apparently give his last testimony, denying
a media report that he had shown investigators photocopies of
checks signed to him by Hariri and defending Syria's role in
Lebanon, where it kept troops for 29 years until April.

Kanaan was the head of Syrian military intelligence in
Lebanon from 1982 until 2002. He was appointed interior
minister in 2004. In 2002, he was appointed as chief of the
Syrian Political Security Directorate.

Syria was the main powerbroker in Lebanon after the end of
its 1975-1990 civil war. It was forced to relinquish its grip
amid international and local uproar over Hariri's killing.