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UN's top lawyer sees Hariri court outside Lebanon

By Staff
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UNITED NATIONS, Mar 24 (Reuters) The top UN lawyer virtually ruled out the idea that a special court to try suspects in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri could be located inside Lebanon.

''There is a broad perception that for the tribunal to effectively perform what is expected, it is extremely difficult that it would be located on the territory of Lebanon,'' said U.N. Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel yesterday.

A number of factors would be taken into account in deciding the court's location, he said, including ''security of the judges, of the witnesses, of the accused and the perceived impartiality of the tribunal.'' Michel spoke to reporters after briefing the Security Council on the state of planning for the new tribunal.

The 15-nation council may vote next Wednesday on a resolution authorizing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to begin formal negotiations with Beirut on establishment of the court, Argentine Ambassador Cesar Mayoral, the council president for March, told Reuters.

Hariri and 22 others were killed in a February 14, 2005, truck bombing in Beirut that UN investigators concluded could not have been carried out without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials, working with their Lebanese counterparts.

Syrian officials have denied any involvement by Damascus.

The UN investigative commission looking into the murder, led by Belgian Serge Brammertz, has not identified the killers but reported last week that it was close to a detailed understanding of how the plot was carried out and predicted success in getting to the bottom of the crime.

The Security Council authorized an international investigation after concluding that a Lebanese inquiry would not be credible due to Syrian domination of its neighbor.

But Hariri's death also triggered international outrage, as well as protests in Beirut that forced Syria to withdraw its troops from the country after a 29-year presence.

Michel has already held several rounds of exploratory talks with Lebanese judicial authorities after Prime Minister Fouad Siniora wrote Annan in December requesting help in bringing Hariri's killers to justice once they were identified.

Diplomats said there was wide agreement in the council that the court should have both Lebanese and international judges.

But there was disagreement over how to fund the court and whether it should try suspects in other recent killings in Lebanon that appeared to be politically motivated, they said.

Reuters DH VP0730

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