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Hariri findings 'delayed by Syria'



Rafik Hariri

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Syria's reluctance to cooperate with U.N. investigators probing the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri may delay the findings for up to two years, the head of that investigation said Tuesday.

"At this rate, the investigation might take another year or two," German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis told the U.N. Security Council.

In response, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations said his government was "making every effort" to cooperate with Hariri investigation, and he again denied allegations that Damascus was behind the Lebanese politician's slaying.

"Syria is making every possible effort to facilitate the task of this commission in order for it to fully and satisfactorily discharge its task," Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad told the Security Council.

In a report out Monday, Mehlis criticized the "slow pace" of Syrian cooperation in the Hariri probe and urged Damascus to be "more forthcoming" with investigators.

But Mehlis told the Security Council that despite "reluctance and procrastination," the Syrian government did allow his investigators to question five Syrian officials it had sought to interrogate.

Mekdad also said investigators would be allowed to interview Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, whom U.N. investigators accused of making false statements to them during the investigation. And he condemned the latest bombing to target Lebanese figures since Hariri's February killing. (Full story)

That attack, on Monday, killed Gebran Tueni -- a prominent journalist who not only served as an anti-Syrian member of Lebanon's parliament, but also was a witness in the Hariri probe, Mehlis said.

"I met with Mr Gebran Tueni to interview him as a witness in the Hariri case," Mehlis said. "It is very sad that he left us under such horrendous circumstances."

Tueni's funeral is scheduled for Wednesday.

The Security Council warned in November that Damascus would face "further measures" if it did not step up its cooperation with Mehlis' investigators. John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the Bush administration was "not at all happy" with Syria's steps in that regard.

Bolton did not mention sanctions, saying only that the Bush administration was "considering what additional pressure to bear." But he said, "The council's word is at stake now."

The United States also has been critical of Damascus for its support of Palestinian militant groups, and it accuses Syria of allowing fighters to sneak across its borders to battle American troops in Iraq.

Hariri's killing led to renewed international pressure on Syria to withdraw troops and intelligence assets from Lebanon, which it had dominated since the end of the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war.

Monday's U.N. report also restated investigators' suspicions that top-ranked Syrian and Lebanese officials were involved in the bombing that killed Hariri, despite the public recantation of a prominent witness, Hussam Taher Hussam.

Hussam has given interviews and appeared on Syrian television to disavow his testimony to the investigative commission, which he said was given under duress.

But the U.N. probe found that Hussam gave friends an account of Hariri's killing similar to the one he gave investigators -- and found evidence that some of his relatives were arrested in Syria before he recanted his statement.

Elections following Syria's withdrawal saw Hariri's allies oust a pro-Syrian government. But in a stormy Cabinet session Monday, five pro-Syrian ministers suspended their participation in Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government after it called for an international investigation into attacks on Syria's critics in Lebanon.

Earlier, Mekdad told CNN that a Syrian judicial commission named to investigate what role Syria might have played in the killings would report its findings to the United Nations. But he said the Syrian government wanted to see whatever information the Lebanese and U.N. investigators had compiled.

"It's in the interest of the investigation to uncover those who are behind this heinous crime and other crimes, because we are sure Syria will come clean at the end of all these investigations," he said.

Senior United Nations Producer Liz Neisloss contributed to this report

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