Trial for Hariri murder may start September: court registrar

18th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

A trial for the 2005 murder of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri may start by September, with or without an accused in the dock, the registrar of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon said on Tuesday.

"Toward September/October, if things go well, we may see the start of the trial ... with or without an accused," registrar Herman von Hebel told reporters at the court's seat in Leidschendam near The Hague.

The tribunal's prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare, presented a confidential indictment widely believed to name Hezbollah to pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen on Monday with thousands pages of supporting documents.

Fransen has to confirm the charges before any arrest warrant or summons to appear can be issued, a process Von Hebel expected to last "at least six to ten weeks".

"The pre-trial judge is very keen to move the process forward as fast as possible," he said.

Fransen may lift the lid on the indictment when he confirms the charges, but may opt to keep it confidential until the moment of arrest.

In expectation of being named in the indictment, Hezbollah warned on Sunday it would "defend" itself and branded the tribunal a tool of the United States and Israel.

Hezbollah and its allies withdrew from the Lebanese cabinet last Wednesday, prompting the collapse of the unity government led by Western-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the murdered former premier.

The tribunal's rules of procedure allow for suspects to be tried in their absence. They can be arrested even after their conviction.

"We know for sure it is not easy to get accused persons arrested," said Von Hebel.

"The problem with international tribunals is that they do not have a police force. We are dependent on the cooperation of states."

Von Hebel said the tribunal's budget of 65.7 million dollars (49.4 million euros) for 2011 should not be affected by the collapse of the Lebanese government, which is obliged to pay 49 percent.

"The obligation is for the state, not a government," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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