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Under tight security, tribunal to take up killings in Lebanon

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The memory of how a former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri, died appears to have sobered those seeking to prosecute his assassins.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which begins proceedings today in a suburb near The Hague, has planted an impressive arsenal of security devices, with an extra focus on forestalling car bombs.

Hariri and 22 others were killed when a white van exploded near his motorcade in Beirut, the Lebanese capital, on Feb. 14, 2005.

The court's mandate is to try those deemed responsible for that attack, a politically inflammable issue because it is widely believed that Syria ordered the assassination.

Hariri had been a leading opponent of Syria's political control over his country. Protests after his killing forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after nearly three decades.

The first task for the tribunal, set up by the U.N. Security Council, will be to judge if the prosecutor has enough evidence for indictments.

The first investigator, the German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, said the planners included high-level Lebanese and Syrian officials, among them members of the inner circle of President Bashar Assad of Syria. Syria has denied any involvement.

Eleven judges, only four of them Lebanese, will sit on the tribunal, which will operate outside of Lebanon for security reasons.

Lawyers familiar with the court said the tribunal would start its work with a review of the cases against four Lebanese generals imprisoned in Beirut since August 2005 on suspicion of murder and terrorist acts.

The four men were never formally charged.

In recent days, three other suspects in the case, two Lebanese and a Syrian, were released from custody by a Lebanese judge.

Lawyers in The Hague said they did not know if others were in custody.

The four generals, cited in Mehlis' reports as the top Lebanese security officials with close ties to Syria, are Raymond Azar, former chief of military intelligence; Ali Hajj, former chief of the Lebanese police; Jamil al-Sayyed, former director of internal security; and Mustafa Hamdan, former commander of the presidential guard.

Daniel Bellemare of Canada, the tribunal prosecutor, has disclosed little in his latest report except to say he has new evidence leading to other suspects.

Under tight security, tribunal to take up killings in Lebanon 02/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 28, 2009 10:33pm]
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