- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2007

NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he wants an international tribunal to try those suspected of assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others — with or without approval from Lebanon’s divided government.

“I am of the conviction that the special tribunal must be established to put an end to impunity for political assassinations,” Mr. Ban said Tuesday night at a black-tie dinner hosted by the Korea Society. “Continued uncertainty about the tribunal could negatively affect Lebanon’s stability.”

Hours earlier, Lebanese President Emil Lahoud asked the United Nations not to impose the tribunal, saying it could be used “to support some Lebanese against others.”

Mr. Lahoud, who is close to the Syrian government, also said U.N. action would undermine Lebanon’s government.

Syria, which U.N. investigators have accused of instigating the assassination, also opposes a U.N.-backed tribunal.

The United States, France and Britain — key members of the Security Council — are drafting a resolution that would create the tribunal.

An initial draft could be circulated within a day or two, diplomats said yesterday.

“I only hope that the people and government and countries in the region will behave responsibly,” Mr. Ban said earlier Tuesday after lengthy discussions with Security Council members.

Underscoring divisions between pro- and anti-Syrian factions within Lebanon’s government, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora urged the council to proceed with establishing the tribunal.

He said the political impasse would make it impossible for the Lebanese government to take the necessary steps.

Mr. Hariri and 22 others were killed by a massive car bomb in February 2004 in downtown Beirut, an attack so shocking that it galvanized the Lebanese people and the international community to demand Syria’s withdrawal of about 24,000 soldiers after three decades of occupation.

The Syrian government, implicated in the slayings of Mr. Hariri and dozens of other Lebanese, has flatly refused to cooperate with an international court, saying the nation would try its own citizens under its own laws.

Lebanese political parties that are sympathetic to Syria also oppose a U.N. tribunal.

Regional governments and some U.N. analysts fear the imposition of the court by the Security Council could touch off a new civil war in the tense and seething Lebanon, whose communal divisions have sharpened since the war between Israel and pro-Syria Hezbollah last summer.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who holds the rotating Security Council presidency this month, told reporters that the council must act on the wishes of the majority in Lebanon’s parliament.

The bloc consists of Sunni Muslims and some Christians, who want to see a conclusion to the killing of Mr. Hariri and a half-dozen other hits on high-profile Lebanese citizens.

“It is important from our point of view to assist the Lebanese in the establishment of that tribunal,” Mr. Khalilzad said.

“It’s also very important in terms of the future longer-term stability of Lebanon that such actions be deterred through the judicial process that the tribunal involves,” he said.

The Security Council, at the request of Mr. Siniora, conducted an investigation to determine who was responsible for the Hariri assassination and the subsequent killings of anti-Syrian politicians and writers.

Initial findings pointed squarely at senior members of Syria’s military and intelligence services.

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