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U.N. Sets Up Tribunal to Try Hariri's Killers

Retrieved from Naharnet on May 30, 2007

 The U.N. Security Council voted Wednesday to set up an international tribunal to prosecute suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri which shook Lebanon two years ago.

 Fire works lit up the night sky over Beirut in celebration of the court's establishment.

 A concussion bomb exploded near Mar Mikhael Church in Beirut's Shiyyah district just as news of the court's creation was announced around 11 p.m. 

 The 15-member council adopted a legally binding resolution that sets June 10 as the date for the entry into force of a 2006 agreement between the United Nations and the Beirut government to establish the court. 

 Ten countries voted in favor, with veto-wielding members Russia and China as well as South Africa, Indonesia and Qatar -- three non-permanent members -- abstaining. 

 Hariri and 22 other people were killed in a massive bomb blast in February 2005, widely blamed on Syria, which was then forced to end nearly 30 years of military and political domination in Lebanon.

 An initial U.N. inquiry into the Hariri slaying implicated Damascus, which has denied any involvement.

 The vote comes at a time of high tensions in Lebanon, exacerbated by a deadly standoff between the army and an Al-Qaida-inspired Islamist militia, and a spate of bomb attacks in and around the capital Beirut. 

 Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry told reporters the aim of the resolution was to "send the right political signal in Lebanon that there cannot be impunity and that the U.N. stands behind those people who want to see justice." 

 Resolution 1757 was sponsored by the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, Slovakia and Italy, and introduced at the request of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora. 

 It came after U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon reported that rival Lebanese parties had failed to agree on ratifying the 2006 accord.

 The Hizbullah-led opposition objects to the way the Saniora government has handled plans to create the court under U.N. auspices and has so far blocked all moves to set up the court. 

 The government in turn accuses allies of Syria of bowing to pressure from Damascus to try to prevent the creation of the tribunal. 

 Jones Parry said while a domestic solution would have been the "preferred route," the Security Council, in view of the deadlock, needed "to take its responsibility so that there can be a resolution." 

 Russia, a veto-wielding council member and a close ally of Syria, South Africa and Qatar had all voiced reservations to the parts of the text and had sought more time for the rival Lebanese parties to find a home-grown solution. 

 To mollify them, the sponsors agreed to set June 10 as the deadline for the entry into force of the tribunal convention to give the Lebanese factions a last chance to find common ground. 

 The resolution states that "the tribunal shall commence functioning on a date to be determined by the secretary general in consultation with the government of Lebanon, taking into account the progress of the work" of the U.N. panel probing the Hariri murder. 

 In any case, the tribunal is not likely to be up and running until several months after the treaty enters into force, diplomats said. 

 The U.N.-Lebanon deal envisages a mixed tribunal composed of two chambers, a trial court composed of three judges -- one of them Lebanese alongside two foreigners -- and an appeals court with five judges, including two Lebanese.

 For reasons of security, administrative efficiency and fairness, the tribunal would be located outside Lebanon. Cyprus, Italy and the Netherlands have been mooted as possible sites, diplomats said.(AFP -Naharnet)