Lebanon prosecutor warns against indictment speculation

18th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

The prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon warned Tuesday against speculation on the indictment he has filed for the 2005 murder of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, saying it has to remain secret for now.

"Any speculation about the contents of the indictment would be counter-productive," prosecutor Daniel Bellemare said in a video statement the day after submitting the indictment that has sparked a political crisis.

"Confidentiality is essential as I cannot presume that the pre-trial judge will confirm the indictment. If it is confirmed, the content of the document will be made public in due course."

Bellemare submitted his long-awaited indictment under wraps on Monday, but speculation was rife that it names the Hezbollah militant group in connection with the massive car bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others on the Beirut seafront six years ago.

In expectation of being named, Hezbollah warned on Sunday it would "defend" itself and branded the tribunal, based in Leidschendam near The Hague for security reasons, a tool of the United States and Israel.

The Shiite militant group, which enjoys the backing of Iran and Syria, withdrew from the Lebanese cabinet with its allies last Wednesday, citing the UN-backed probe, prompting the collapse of the unity government led by Western-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the murdered former premier.

US President Barack Obama has welcomed the indictment as key to bringing justice to the culprits, but appealed for calm amid rising tensions.

"This action represents an important step toward ending the era of impunity for murder in Lebanon, and achieving justice for the Lebanese people," Obama said in a statement, calling the United States a "strong friend" of Lebanon.

Bellemare said the indictment was the first step "in our collective quest to end impunity in Lebanon. A quest that must be pursued through existing laws and institutions."

"For the first time, a legal case has been launched by an international tribunal against those responsible for a political assassination in Lebanon," he said, thanking his team for their hard work under "challenging circumstances".

The special tribunal was created, at Lebanon's request, by a 2007 UN Security Council resolution to find and try Hariri's killers.

According to its rules of procedure, the indictment will next be reviewed by pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen, who must confirm the charges before any arrest warrant or summons to appear can be issued.

© 2011 AFP

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