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UN Investigator Anticipates Cooperation in Hariri Assassination Probe

The head of the U.N. team investigating the February assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri says he anticipates complete cooperation during his fact finding mission in Beirut. Detlev Mehlis is set to leave for Lebanon Wednesday.

Mr. Mehlis says he will bring his extensive experience as a prosecutor to the commission that will investigate the assassination of the former leader. Mr. Hariri and 20 others were killed in Beirut in February by a massive explosion against his convoy.

Mr. Mehlis says the U.N. investigation team will eventually be joined by more international investigators. "This will be a classic, criminal prosecutorial investigation as opposed to the evaluation which necessarily could not have been completed by Mr. Fitzgerald," he said.

Irish Deputy Police Commissioner Peter Fitzgerald led the initial U.N. fact-finding team. In March, that team recommended an independent international probe into Mr. Hariri's death, saying Lebanon's investigation was flawed.

Mr. Mehlis says everyone who has been approached in his investigation has been cooperative and he says he expects this trend to continue. "As far as I can see it, no one will refuse to cooperate. I don't see that possibility right now," he said.

Mr. Mehlis acknowledged that evidence would not be as fresh because three months have passed since the assassination. He says he has yet to review the evidence in Beirut, but he does believe that his commission will bring the perpetrators to justice. "I'm optimistic, cautiously optimistic that we can. And again first of all I'll have to see what has been, what is there, what was there," he said.

Mr. Mehlis told reporters the investigation will require detective work and evidence gathering. He did not specify what role intelligence may play. "If we have enough facts which will carry on the investigation, we don't need any intelligence. If it is being offered, we will accept it and judge it, check it, but that has to be seen," he said.

The team will have three months to complete its work, with a possible three-month extension. Mr. Mehlis says the commission will hand its findings over to the Lebanese authorities.

The February 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri plunged Lebanon into political turmoil, leading to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after more than 28 years. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan certified the withdrawal in a report to the Security Council Monday.

Lebanon's parliamentary elections are set to begin May 29.