December 12, 2005

U.N. inquiry says Syria cooperation at a slow pace

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A U.N. inquiry said on Monday Syrian
cooperation with its investigation into the killing of a former
Lebanese prime minister was slow and called on Damascus to
arrest Syrian suspects.

"Given that its substantive lines of enquiry are far from
being completed, and given the slow pace with which the Syrian
authorities are beginning to discharge their commitments ...
the commission recommends that there be such an extension and
for a minimum period of six months," it said in a copy of the
report to the Security Council obtained by Reuters in Beirut.

"Syria must detain those Syrian officials or individuals
whom the commission considers as suspected of involvement in
the planning, sponsoring, organizing or perpetrating of this
terrorist act, and make them fully available to the

The report said it had identified 19 suspects but did not
name them. It said five Syrian officials questioned by U.N.
investigators in Vienna this month were suspects.

It complained that Damascus was trying to cast doubt on the
investigation's findings, and said it had asked to interview a
sixth Syrian official, also considered a suspect, but that
session had to be postponed.

"This was, at the least, an attempt to hinder the
investigation internally and procedurally," it said.

The report said statements made by two of the Syrian
suspects "indicated that all Syrian intelligence documents
concerning Lebanon had been burned."

U.N. chief investigator Detlev Mehlis is due to present his
findings at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Tuesday.

An interim report by Mehlis in October said the evidence
pointed toward the involvement of Syrian officials and their
Lebanese allies in Hariri's killing. Syria denies this.

On the basis of that report, the Security Council passed a
resolution demanding that Syria fully cooperate with the probe
or face unspecified action, which could lead to sanctions.

The new report comes hours after the assassination of
Lebanese newspaper magnate and anti-Syrian lawmaker Gebran
Tueni in a car bombing in Beirut.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said he would ask the
Security Council to look into a spree of bombings and
assassinations that have rocked Lebanon in the past 14 months.