BEIRUT,(Agencies) – Lebanon has asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to extend for six months the mandate of an inquiry into the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told Annan in a phone call on Saturday that the Lebanese government wanted the inquiry to continue for six months after its Dec. 15 deadline, and be open to further extensions, a statement from his office said.
Lebanon”s government agreed on Thursday to ask the United Nations to continue its probe into the Feb. 14 truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others, but U.N. diplomats said the chief investigator in the case, Detlev Mehlis, planned to leave his job by the end of the year.
Mehlis, appointed to lead the inquiry in May, plans to submit a report to the Security Council on Dec. 12, after which he will speak to the 15-nation body for the last time.
The statement said Mehlis had told Siniora in a meeting last week that he intended to quit his post by the end of the year.
Annan promised Siniora during the call that he would do his best to persuade the German prosecutor to stay, it added.
"Annan told Prime Minister Siniora he would try to persuade Mehlis to stay in his post to complete his work on the investigation commission," Siniora”s statement said.
The United States urged Annan on Friday to persuade Mehlis to continue leading the probe into Hariri”s murder, which has transformed Lebanon”s political landscape.
Mehlis” interim report in October cast suspicion on senior Syrian officials and suggested the assassination was planned by top security officials in Damascus and their Lebanese allies.
Syria has denied those accusations and dismissed the Mehlis report as politically motivated.
U.N. investigators are due to question in Vienna on Monday five Syrian officials, including Lt. Gen. Rustom Ghazali, the former head of military intelligence in Lebanon, in connection with the murder.
The Security Council has warned Syria to cooperate with the probe or face unspecified action, which could lead to sanctions.
The murder has already provoked an international outcry and weeks of Lebanese street protests that forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in April, ending a 29-year presence, and ease its political domination of its smaller neighbour.
Elsewhere in Lebanon, security troops removed the remains of 25 bodies from a mass grave in the eastern Bekaa Valley town of Anjar, near the former headquarters of Syrian military intelligence, security officials said Saturday.
At least one of the bodies belonged to a Lebanese soldier, identified as such by his uniform.
The bodies were found by local residents, who informed Lebanese authorities, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
The remains, including bones, teeth and skulls, were taken from the mass grave on the Nabi Azir hilltop position formerly occupied by Syrian soldiers, about one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the former headquarters of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon.
The Anjar headquarters was notorious for the arrest and torture of prisoners.
Security troops barred journalists Saturday from approaching the grave site, only allowing photographers to take pictures of them refilling the earth pit after their work was done. Journalists, however, saw security troops collecting the remains in at least 12 black bags. The remains were then taken for DNA testing, said the officials.
The identities of the bodies was not immediately clear. One security official said they appeared to have been killed in October 1990 during the Syrian military offensive that defeated Christian-commanded units of the Lebanese army under Michel Aoun, who was interim prime minister at the time, removing the last holdout against Syrian dominance of Lebanon.
Syria was the main power broker in Lebanon until early this year, when public sentiment turned against it in the wake of the Feb. 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, for which many blamed Damascus.
Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon in April after a 29-year military presence.
The Anjar headquarters was vacated on April 25 as the pillars of Syria”s domination of Lebanon crumbled.