Syrians impeded Hariri inquiry, UN says

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Syria tried to obstruct an investigation into the murder of Rafik Hariri, former prime minister of Lebanon, according to the second United Nations report into the murder.

Evidence of Syrian involvement in the bomb attack that killed Hariri in February was reinforced in the report, presented to the Security Council yesterday. An initial report said it was highly unlikely that the attack could have been carried out without Syria's knowledge.

Syria denies involvement in the plot and insists it is helping the investigation.

The German prosecutor, Detlev Mehlis, said that Syrian officials had burnt official papers relating to Lebanon and pressured one witness to recant his testimony. Husam Taher Husam's relatives were arrested and threatened shortly before he recanted his previous testimony last month. "Preliminary investigation leads to the conclusion that Mr Husam is being manipulated by the Syrian authorities," the report said, adding that Syria's handling of Mr Husam was "an attempt to hinder the investigation internally and procedurally".

The Security Council has demanded that Syria co-operate fully with the investigation or face "further action" which could lead to sanctions.

Mr Mehlis said that investigators had been continually slowed by "procedural manoeuvring and sometimes contradictory feedback from the Syrian authorities".

The report said there were 19 suspects, whom it did not name, including five high-level Syrian officials questioned by UN investigators in Vienna this month and one whose interview was postponed.

UN diplomats have said Rustum Ghazale, the last Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon who was in charge when Hariri was assassinated, was among those interviewed.

The suspects include four Lebanese generals, currently under arrest in Lebanon, and a man under arrest in France.

A report by Mr Mehlis in October implicated Syrian security officials and their Lebanese allies in the death of Hariri and 22 others in a truck bombing on 14 February in Beirut.