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UN Investigator Needs Another Year to Probe Lebanon Murders

New York (DPA) -- A top UN investigator said Wednesday he needs more time to find those behind the murder of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 and other assassinations, but said that significant progress has been made in the inquiry.

Serge Brammertz requested another year after his investigative commission's mandate expires in June. The request is backed by the Lebanese government.

Brammertz, who appears before the UN Security Council at UN headquarters every three months to report on his work, said the investigation of Hariri and 16 other politically-motivated murders in Lebanon demands more legal staff and Arabic translators.

'Since the last briefing to the council, the commission has significantly narrowed down its inquiries into the motive to kill Rafik Hariri to those linked to his political activities,' Brammertz told the 15-nation council.

Hariri, an opponent of Syrian military occupation of Lebanon, was killed on a Beirut street in February 2005 by a massive bomb blast that also took 22 lives. National and international outrage over the assassination prompted Syria to pull out of Lebanon within months, but another 16 Lebanese activists have been killed since for their anti-Syrian views.

Brammertz's commission has been asked by the council to investigate all the murders. But he reported that he has looked into eight other attacks in which no specific individuals appeared to have been targeted.

He told the council that his commission's cooperation with Syria 'remains generally satisfactory.' The commission has requested assistance from 23 governments in addition to Syria and Lebanon.

Brammertz's said he had made progress in establishing the motives for the assassination of Hariri and linking them to suspects in the killing.

'The aim remains to link together the most responsible perpetrators with others who knew about the crime, those who participated in the execution of it, and those who assisted in the preparation of the necessary components for its execution,' Brammertz said.

Brammertz said Lebanon, Syria and other states have provided 'mostly positive and timely responses' to requests for assistance in the investigation. But he said the current volatile political and security environment in Lebanon, and the lack of qualified staff, have had an impact on the work of investigators.

He said he had requested interviews with Syrian officials and groups, and Damascus had met those demands 'within the appropriate timescales' and he was grateful for the logistical and security arrangements provide by Syria.

'The commission will continue to request Syria's full cooperation, which remains crucial to the swift and successful completion of the commission's mandate,' Brammertz said.

Brammertz, of Belgium, is a former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. He has been cautious in revealing more details of the investigation. Tuesday was the commission's seventh report since May, 2005, when the investigation was ordered.

Hariri's murder led to massive street protests in the so-called Cedar revolution that ousted the pro-Syrian government. Months later, Syria responded to intense international pressure to withdraw its troops that had occupied the country for decades after the Lebanese civil war.

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