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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 November 2005, 13:37 GMT
UN investigator returns to Beirut
Lead UN investigator Detlev Mehlis
Detlev Mehlis says Syria has not co-operated fully with his inquiry
The head of a UN inquiry into the killing of the former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri has returned to Lebanon to continue his investigations.

Detlev Mehlis' interim report implicated Syrian and pro-Syria Lebanese officials and accused Damascus of misleading his investigating team.

A UN resolution has threatened further action unless Syria co-operates fully.

Syria says Mr Mehlis can interview two relatives of President Bashar al-Assad allegedly linked to Hariri's death.

The president's brother, Maher al-Assad, who commands the presidential guard, and his brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat, the head of Military Intelligence, were implicated in an early draft of the inquiry's report.

Now the Syrian government needs to make a strategic decision to fundamentally change its behaviour
Condoleezza Rice
US Secretary of State

Both men will agree to see the UN commission if requested, the Syrian ambassador to Britain, Sami al-Khiyami, told the BBC's Today programme on Tuesday.

Mr Khiyami pointed out that the inquiry had not asked to interview them before.

"In our eyes there was full co-operation. However, if the commission had said at that time that it had suspects we would have acted differently," he said.

'No evidence'

The ambassador repeated Syrian demands for evidence that its officials had been involved in, or had known about Hariri's assassination.

"I think we should also repeat what the Russian delegate to the UN said yesterday: 'No more suspicions without evidence.'"

However, Mr Khiyami agreed that "both parties have a clear message from the UN Security Council".

Syria has until 15 December to comply with the resolution sponsored by the US, France and the UK, which includes a call for Damascus to detain suspects identified by the inquiry.

In response to the unanimous UN vote, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa earlier criticised Mr Mehlis for accusing his country without due process.

He said no evidence had been put forward concerning alleged false and misleading statements from Syrian officials to investigators.

"It is clear for any person who has followed this issue throughout that Syria's co-operation was complete. I repeat: complete."

Unanimous vote

The killing of Hariri in a car bombing in Beirut in February led to widespread criticism of Syria, which was forced to withdraw its soldiers from Lebanon as a result.

Syria is key to the Middle East - pressure on it will shift the last of the moderates to the extreme
Bill, US

The UN launched its inquiry in the aftermath of the killing.

Last week, Mr Mehlis said Syria had given misleading information and had not fully co-operated with his commission.

The brother and brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were among the suspects named in a draft version of Mr Mehlis' report.

The unanimous Security Council resolution says that anyone suspected of being involved with Hariri's murder would be banned from travelling and have their assets frozen.

However, the sponsors dropped some threatened sanctions at the last minute in order to win support.

Russia and China had expressed deep concern that the sanctions against Syria proposed in the earlier draft of the resolution were too harsh.

Assassins had considerable resources and capabilities
Evidence suggests both Syria and Lebanon were involved
Crime was prepared over several months
Hariri's movements and itineraries were monitored
Highly unlikely Syrian or Lebanese intelligence were not aware of assassination plot

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Speaking in the council after the vote, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Syrian government needed to make a strategic decision to "fundamentally change its behaviour".

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Damascus had now been put on notice that the UN's patience had limits.

But Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing cautioned that the Mehlis report was still preliminary, and that sanctions now would be inappropriate.

At the weekend, Syria announced its own inquiry into the death of Hariri.

Damascus said a special judicial committee would question both civilian and military personnel in the country.

The committee would also co-operate with the UN investigation, the Syrian presidency said.


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