Security Council put off decision on Hariri tribunal

Date: 11-20-06

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The UN Security Council put off for at least one day a decision on endorsing an international tribunal to try suspects in the murder of Lebanon's former premier Rafiq Hariri.

France's UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said most council members were in favor of giving a green light to the establishment of the tribunal through a letter to UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

The tribunal would try suspects in the massive February 14, 2005 bombing on the Beirut seafront that killed Hariri and 22 other people.

A UN probe into Hariri's murder, which is still underway, has implicated senior officials from Syria, for decades the power-broker in its smaller neighbor. Damascus strongly denies any connection with the killing.

De La Sabliere said there was "almost unanimity" among the 15 council members to express to Annan their backing for an agreement on the tribunal.

He added that Peru's ambassador Jorge Voto-Bernales, the council president for this month, would later in the day circulate a letter to that effect.

If no one objects over a 24-hour period, the letter will be considered approved and sent to Annan, who was mandated by the council to work out with the Beirut government plans for the special tribunal, expected to be located outside Lebanon.

"It is the strong hope of France that this letter will be approved tomorrow," de La Sabliere said.

But the French envoy said the council would not get embroiled in the dispute over the constitutionality of the Lebanese cabinet's approval last Monday of a UN document setting out the legal basis for the tribunal.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and other pro-Syria politicians expressed opposition to the move, and six pro-Syria ministers, including five Shiites, resigned November 11 after Prime Minister Fuad Siniora decided the cabinet would meet on the tribunal issue.

Lahoud, an ally of Syria, has said the cabinet's decision is "not binding for the Lebanese state" because it was taken by an "illegitimate" government.

He has expressed strong reservations about the tribunal proposal in a letter sent to Annan.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin stressed Monday the need to "respect the constitutional procedures" in Lebanon and warned that "the formation of the tribunal should help maintain the unity of the different Lebanese actors and not constitute a division factor".

Once endorsed by the Security Council, the tribunal blueprint will have to be formally approved by the Lebanese parliament and ratified by the president with the agreement of the prime minister.


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