December 4, 2005

Lebanon asks UN to extend Hariri murder inquiry

By Lin Noueihed

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon has asked U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan to extend for six months the mandate of an inquiry
into the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told Annan in a phone call on
Saturday that the Lebanese government wanted the inquiry to
continue for six months after its December 15 deadline, and be
open to further extensions, a statement from his office said.

Lebanon's government agreed on Thursday to ask the United
Nations to continue its probe into the February 14 truck
bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others, but U.N. diplomats
said the chief investigator in the case, Detlev Mehlis, planned
to leave his job by the end of the year.

Mehlis, appointed to lead the inquiry in May, plans to
submit a report to the Security Council on December 12, after
which he will speak to the 15-nation body for the last time.

The statement said Mehlis had told Siniora in a meeting
last week that he intended to quit his post by the end of the
year. Annan promised Siniora during the call that he would do
his best to persuade the German prosecutor to stay, it added.

"Annan told Prime Minister Siniora he would try to persuade
Mehlis to stay in his post to complete his work on the
investigation commission," Siniora's statement said.

The United States urged Annan on Friday to persuade Mehlis
to continue leading the probe into Hariri's murder, which has
transformed Lebanon's political landscape.

Mehlis' interim report in October cast suspicion on senior
Syrian officials and suggested the assassination was planned by
top security officials in Damascus and their Lebanese allies.

Syria has denied those accusations and dismissed the Mehlis
report as politically motivated.

U.N. investigators are due to question in Vienna on Monday
five Syrian officials, including Lt. Gen. Rustom Ghazali, the
former head of military intelligence in Lebanon, in connection
with the murder.

The Security Council has warned Syria to cooperate with the
probe or face unspecified action, which could lead to

The murder has already provoked an international outcry and
weeks of Lebanese street protests that forced Syria to withdraw
its troops from Lebanon in April, ending a 29-year presence,
and ease its political domination of its smaller neighbor.