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Lebanon to ask UN for Hariri probe extension

Written by: Staff

BEIRUT, May 2 (Reuters) The Lebanese government decided today to ask the United Nations to extend an ongoing inquiry into the killing of ex-Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, official sources said.

The mandate of the 11-month inquiry expires on June 15 but the investigation has run into difficulties, partly due to Syrian reluctance to cooperate and disputes over the veracity of witness statements.

The cabinet passed the decision to ask for a one-year extension at an emergency session, the officials said.

The 15-member Security Council had already extended the mandate of the inquiry for six months in mid-December following an earlier request from the Lebanese government.

An interim report in December implicated senior Syrian officials in the February 2005 killing and criticised Syria for its lack of cooperation with UN investigators.

A follow-up report in March said groundwork had been laid for better cooperation with Damascus, which denies any role in the murder.

Serge Brammertz, the inquiry's chief investigator who took over from German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis in January, interviewed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last week over the country's alleged role in the assassination.

President George W Bush has issued an order blocking the assets of anyone found to be connected with the killing.

Syria, which ended its 29-year military presence in Lebanon a year ago after an international outcry over Hariri's killing, was the dominant political force in its smaller neighbour since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Lebanon is working with the United Nations to set up an international tribunal to try the suspected assassins. Four Lebanese ex-security generals have been charged in connection with the crime but no indictments have been issued so far.


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