February 23, 2006

UN Hariri probe chief has “good” talks in Syria

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The new chief U.N. investigator had
positive talks with Syrian officials on Thursday on cooperation
with the inquiry into the killing of Lebanese ex-Prime Minister
Rafik al-Hariri, a U.N. spokeswoman said.

Serge Brammertz was driven in a heavily guarded convoy
across the Lebanese border into Syria for his first visit to
the Syrian capital since taking over from Detlev Mehlis last

"He held a working meeting with Syrian officials in which
old and new issues of cooperation were discussed," she told
Reuters in Beirut. "It was a good meeting."

The spokeswoman said Brammertz had returned to Beirut but
gave no further details. Lebanese security sources said
Brammertz and four aides spent five hours in Syria before
returning by land.

The official Syrian news agency SANA said Syrian Foreign
Minister Walid al-Moualem had met the chief investigator and
discussed ways "to help the inquiry do its job," adding that
the meeting yielded "positive results."

The United Nations has demanded full Syrian cooperation
with the investigation into the February 14, 2005 killing of
Hariri. The Security Council has threatened Syria with further
action -- possibly sanctions -- if it does not do so.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during a brief
visit to Beirut on Thursday, urged Syria to cooperate fully
with the investigation.

Syria has refused requests by Mehlis to question President
Bashar al-Assad on the killing but allowed security officials
to be questioned in Vienna.

Mehlis had implicated senior Syrian security officials and
their Lebanese allies in the killing. Four Lebanese generals
are under arrest in Lebanon.

Large protests in Beirut accusing Damascus of the killing
forced Syria to bow to international pressure in April and end
three decades of military presence in its smaller neighbor.

(Additional reporting by Rasha Elass in Damascus)