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US, France Help Lebanon Investigate Reporter's Killing

The United States and France are working with Lebanese authorities investigating the murder of a prominent anti-Syrian journalist in Lebanon last week.

Washington's acting U.N. ambassador, Anne Patterson, confirmed Wednesday that an FBI team is in Lebanon assisting the investigation into the killing of journalist Samir Kassir. She said the United States and France were among countries providing "technical assistance" to Lebanese authorities.

"We think that same issue can be resolved through technical assistance from foreign governments, and that's what we've done. The Americans, the French and perhaps some technical assistance from the U.N. group on the ground," said Ms. Patterson.

The United Nations already has a team in Lebanon investigating the February assassination of the country's former prime minister Rafik Hariri. That team, led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, arrived in Beirut last week, about the same time as the car bomb attack that killed Samir Kassir.

The Security Council Tuesday approved a statement condemning Mr. Kassir's murder, calling him a symbol of Lebanon's political independence and freedom. The statement expressed concern about the destabilizing impact of political assassinations and other terrorist acts in Lebanon.

Anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon have accused Syria of involvement in both the Hariri and Kassir assassinations. As investigations into the two killings got underway this week, Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered top U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen to fly to Damascus immediately for talks on Lebanon with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria has denied any involvement in the killings and condemned them. When asked about the allegations, Syria's U.N. ambassador Fayssal Mekdad replied "it's impossible".

"We went into Lebanon to save the Lebanese people,” said Mr. Mekdad. “In no way can we encourage such bloody actions. We condemn both the Hariri incident and Mr. Kassir's assassination. I think by making such rumors, they will deviate from the real perpetrator of such crimes."

The Syrian ambassador declined to speculate on who might be responsible for the assassinations, and harshly criticized those who have.

Syria entered neighboring Lebanon in the mid-1970s, and dominated the country militarily and politically with little international opposition until last September, when the Security Council passed a resolution demanding it withdraw.

Pressure for a pullout mounted after Mr. Hariri's assassination, and U.N. officials confirmed in late April that all Syrian military forces had left. But U.N. monitors have said they cannot be sure whether all Syrian intelligence operatives have withdrawn.