Global panel set up to investigate Lebanese PM’s killing

March 1st, 2009 - 9:45 pm ICT by IANS  

The Hague, March 1 (DPA) The international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri four years ago was formally constituted in The Hague Sunday.
The court, constituted under a United Nations mandate, is to probe among other things allegations that Syria was behind the killing of Hariri in a massive Beirut bomb blast on Feb 14, 2005.

Syria has repeatedly denied allegations of involvement in the Hariri attack, in which 22 other people were also killed.

Court registrar Robin Vincent told the opening that the tribunal was in the first place not so much for the UN or for the international community as “for Lebanon”.

A group of several dozen Lebanese outside the heavily-fortified tribunal building - a former Dutch secret service gym in The Hague suburb of Leidschendam-Voorburg - waved national flags.

They also held aloft banners proclaiming “thank you, Holland” - a reference to the Dutch government making the facility available for the tribunal to go ahead on neutral territory.

Four Lebanese generals regarded as pro-Syrian are expected to be charged by The Hague court in connection with the murder. A Lebanese investigating judge Friday rejected a request for their release.

The four - Mustafa Hamdan, commander of the presidential guard, Jamil Sayyed, director of security services, domestic security head Ali Hajj, and the commander of army intelligence Raymond Azar - have been detained in Lebanon since 2005.

Canadian Daniel Bellemare assumed the role of the tribunal’s chief prosecutor. The 56-year-old had been the head UN investigator in the case since November 2007.

Bellemere pledged to do all in his power to get to the bottom of the assassination, and had already made clear before Sunday’s formal opening of the tribunal that he would seek the transfer of the four generals from Lebanon.

The four have not been formally charged. Bellemere has 60 days to apply to the Lebanese authorities for the transfer of suspects and evidence files.

The tribunal’s hearings are expected to last for several years, and it is expected that months will pass before anyone actually goes on trial.

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