The 15-nation UN Security Council weighed its response Tuesday to a UN investigation that accused Syria of hindering its probe into the slaying of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The council first heard an oral presentation from Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor who led the inquiry. Mehlis said in a report delivered on Monday that his team had found new evidence implicating Syria in the truck bomb murder of Hariri and 22 others last February 14 in Beirut.
At the same time the 15-nation body this week is expected to extend the investigation into Hariri's death for up to another six months as requested by Lebanon and Mehlis, who will be leaving the probe.
And France said it was willing to expand the inquiry to include others killed in Lebanon, including Gebran Tueni, a newspaper publisher and lawmaker assassinated in a car bombing on Monday.
"If there is a request coming from the Lebanese Government, my delegation will support such a request, and we will do our best to have the council going in the same direction," said France's UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere.
Opinions divided over resolution
But the most controversial issue facing the council is a resolution, adopted October 31, that threatens "further action" against Syria if it did not co-operate fully with Mehlis's team. This could lead to sanctions.
Both Sabliere and US Ambassador John Bolton told reporters on Monday that Damascus had not yet met council requirements, despite some improvements.
"What precise steps we consider have not yet been decided, but there's no ambiguity here," Bolton said. "That is no co-operation."
But splits in the council are expected, with Algeria's UN Ambassador, Abdallah Baali, saying Syria's co-operation had improved after a slow start. Russia and China also are usually opposed to sanctions.
"I think at this stage it's premature to decide whether or not we're in favor of measures," British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said after he presided over a council meeting that condemned Monday's murder of Tueni.
In October, Mehlis's team had implicated the top Syrian security officials and their Lebanese allies in the Hariri killing. Since then he said his probe reinforced that finding.
Mehlis said that Syria had burned some papers relating to Lebanon and pressured one witness, Hosam Taher Hosam, to recant his testimony. He said the commission had received credible information that Syrian officials had arrested and threatened some of Hosam's close relatives in Syria. But lawyers for Hosam denied there was any threat.
Mehlis said to date there were 19 suspects, whom he did not name, including five Syrian officials questioned by his team in Vienna earlier this month. Two of the witnesses interviewed in the Austrian capital said Syrian intelligence documents about Lebanon had been burned, the report said.
Schools, shops and businesses closed down in Lebanon Tuesday to mourn anti-Syrian press magnate and legislator Gebran Tueni.
The Lebanese Government voted on Monday night and decided to seek a UN investigation into a series of assassinations in the country.
(China Daily December 14, 2005)