- Associated Press - Thursday, December 9, 2010

LEIDSCHENDAM, Netherlands | The prosecutor of the U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri will issue his first indictment very soon, the court’s new leader said Thursday.

Special Tribunal for Lebanon registrar Herman von Hebel gave no details about the content of the indictment, which will remain confidential until it is confirmed by a judge at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, likely early next year.

Tension over the tribunal has paralyzed Lebanon in recent weeks amid speculation prosecutor Daniel Bellemare will indict members of Hezbollah, the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Shiite militant group that controls a military force that is more powerful than the national army and part of Lebanon’s fragile governing coalition.

Mr. Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, was Lebanon’s most prominent politician in the years after the 1975-90 civil war. He and 22 other people were killed by a truck bomb on Feb. 14, 2005. At the time, he was trying to limit Syria’s influence in Lebanon.

Mr. von Hebel, a Dutchman who previously has worked at tribunals prosecuting crimes in Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia, stressed that the Hariri court will indict individuals and not organizations.

“We are talking about individual criminal responsibility, not group responsibility,” he told a small group of reporters at the court’s headquarters, the day after the U.N. appointed him registrar for a three year term.

He said a pretrial judge will likely take six to 10 weeks to confirm all or parts of the indictment, or reject it if there is insufficient evidence. A trial could begin four to six months after an indictment is confirmed.

The indictment could remain sealed even after it is confirmed, if the court believes that would make arresting suspects easier, Mr. von Hebel said.

The Hariri tribunal, like other international war-crimes courts, does not have its own police force to arrest suspects. Unlike other tribunals, it has the power to try suspects in absentia if they elude arrest.

That will prevent situations like that of former Bosnian Serb army commander Gen. Ratko Mladic, who remains on the run from justice 15 years after being indicted by the U.N. Yugoslavia tribunal for genocide.