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UN Hariri probe chief has "good" talks in Syria

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BEIRUT, Feb 23 (Reuters) The new chief UN investigator had positive talks with Syrian officials today on cooperation with the inquiry into the killing of Lebanese ex-Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a UN 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 month.

''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 Feb. 14, 2005 killing of Hariri. The Security Council has threatened Syria with further action -- possibly sanctions -- if it does not do so.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during a brief visit to Beirut today, 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 neighbour.

REUTERS MP RAI2146

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