Global Policy Forum

Syria Tells UN's Ban


By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

April 24, 2007

Syria told the United Nations on Tuesday rival Lebanese leaders must agree on an international court to try suspects in high-level political killings in Lebanon. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had urged President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus to use his influence to ensure Lebanese consensus emerges over the tribunal that would look into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005 and other attacks.

Diplomats and Lebanese officials say the Security Council would move to set up the tribunal unilaterally if the Lebanese factions, including groups close to Syria, did not pass it through Beirut's constitutional channels. "I discussed this issue with President Assad at length and then he said that this is an issue purely the Lebanese people should decide with consensus opinion," Ban told reporters. "However, he said at the same time he would use his efforts to encourage the Lebanese people to arrive at national consensus," Ban said before ending a one-day visit to Syria.

U.N. officials have been urging rival Lebanese leaders to approve plans for the Hariri court, which is at the heart of the country's worst political split since the 1975-1990 civil war. "If they are not able to agree on that, this is something the United Nations, particularly the Security Council, will have to consider," Ban said. "I'm not in a position to say something other than that."

The Western-backed government in Beirut accuses its Lebanese opponents of trying to derail plans for the court to protect Damascus, which they accuse of killing Hariri and other anti-Syrian figures. Damascus denies involvement and says if any Syrians were involved, they will be tried at home. The Syrian government has said it wants nothing to do with the court, partly because it was not consulted on its establishment. It has also objected to the idea of setting up the tribunal while the United Nations was still carrying out an inquiry into the killing.

The Lebanese opposition, including Syrian ally Hezbollah, says it agrees with the idea of the court but wants to discuss its mandate. The Lebanese government has asked the Security Council to take steps towards establishing the court, arguing its efforts to secure parliamentary approval have failed because the parliamentary speaker has refused to convene the chamber. Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, a Syrian ally, disputes the cabinet's legitimacy. Hezbollah has warned against unilateral establishment of the court by the United Nations, saying it could destabilize Lebanon.

Ban said he emphasized to Assad the importance of preventing illegal movements of arms to Lebanon, the demarcation of borders and establishing diplomatic ties between the two countries. The U.N. Security Council this month authorized a mission to check reports of weapons smuggling from Syria into Lebanon, especially to Syria's ally Hezbollah. Syria ended its 29-year military dominance over Lebanon in 2005, pulling out its forces in the wake of Hariri's killing.

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