UNITED NATIONS, (Reuters) – The United Nations is seeking to break the deadlock over a tribunal to try suspects in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — the center of Lebanon’s worst political crisis in nearly two decades.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced on Friday he was sending chief U.N. legal counsel Nicholas Michel to Beirut in to initiate a dialogue and answer legal concerns over the international court. Michel said he would arrive on Tuesday and stay as long as needed.
Ban and the U.N. Security Council had hoped Lebanon would agree on a law establishing the court after it asked the council to approve the tribunal and investigate the murder of Hariri and 22 others in his motorcade killed by a bomb in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005.
But Nabih Berri, the opposition speaker of the parliament, has refused to call a session of the chamber to ratify the tribunal. In the past week, the pro-Western government, led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and 70 out of 128 legislators have asked that the council establish the special court.
The purpose of Michel’s visit is “to offer his legal assistance to the Lebanese government and political leaders, to help their constitutional procedures,” Ban told reporters after a lunch with Security Council ambassadors.
Michel said he did not want to step into Lebanon’s internal controversy. But the debate over the tribunal is at the heart of Lebanon’s worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war following a series of murders of anti-Syrian figures, which many blame on Damascus. Syria has denied involvement. “I am going to go there, offer my good offices on behalf of the secretary-general and let the parties understand that they had expressed the wish to establish a tribunal and we are there to achieve that seriously with them in good time,” Michel said.
At least two Security Council members said the 15-nation body could not set up a court without invoking Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which makes the decision mandatory.
Hezbollah, Lebanon’s largest opposition group, has expressed concern the tribunal, with U.S. support, will be used as a political weapon against it.
The opposition wants veto power in the cabinet, which Hezbollah says is a U.S. puppet, while the governing coalition says it opponents take orders from Iran and Syria.
On a related issue, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Sinoria has welcomed an independent mission to assess monitoring of the Lebanese-Syrian border after widespread reports of arms smuggling, Ban said.
In a letter to the council, Ban suggested sending a small team for a limited time “to provide recommendations on measures and strategies leading to the enhancement of border security.”
Still, the Security Council has not yet agreed. France has drafted a Security Council statement asking Ban to set up the team but Russia is still hesitating, council diplomats said.