UN urges Lebanon to hasten Hariri murder court

April 22, 2007 - 0:0
BEIRUT (AFP) -- The UN's top legal adviser called for a return to dialogue in divided Lebanon and for the prompt creation of the tribunal to resolve the 2005 murder of former premier Rafiq Hariri.

"The establishment of this tribunal will be a victory... for all the Lebanese," Nicolas Michel said after meeting Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a leading opposition figure.

"I hope our efforts will bear fruit" in helping Lebanese leaders return to dialogue for the "earliest establishment" of the international court to try suspects in Hariri's murder by a Beirut car bomb, he said.

Michel said he hoped that his efforts to bridge the gap among the divided Lebanese politicians would see results "in the next few days." He did not elaborate.

Since he arrived in Beirut, Michel has met all prominent Lebanese leaders in a bid to unblock months of political paralysis preventing the Hariri court from being established.

Billionaire former premier Hariri was killed by a massive bomb widely blamed on Syria, which was then forced to end nearly 30 years of military and political domination in Lebanon. Syria denied any involvement in the killing.

The United Nations and Lebanon's government have signed a deal to set up the tribunal, but this must be ratified by the country's divided parliament. Berri, a main pro-Syrian figure in the opposition, refuses to convene parliament. Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the main opposition party Hezbollah, said the court in its current proposed form was "conceived in such a way that it would return pre-established verdicts."

Hezbollah officials who met Michel refused to give him the proposed changes they wanted made to the court, saying they would only present them to a "legitimate" Lebanese government.

The opposition deems the Siniora government as illegitimate since all five representatives of the Shiite community resigned last November.

The rump anti-Syrian Lebanese cabinet accuses pro-Damascus ministers of quitting to sabotage the court plans at the behest of Syrian officials, some of whom have been implicated in Hariri's murder by a UN probe commission.

The Beirut government has called for the UN Security Council to impose the setting up of the tribunal if the opposition continues to block it.

Michel said he was leaving Lebanon on Saturday and would brief the Security Council in New York, which will then rule on the issue.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due to visit Damascus on April 24.