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UN: Hariri Tribunal Enters Startup Phase

The U.N. secretary-general says a special tribunal to try suspects in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has entered the startup period and will begin functioning in phases, but it could still be several months before any trials begin. From United Nations headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

In a report to the Security Council, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says an agreement has been reached with the Dutch government to base the tribunal near The Hague.

Eight trial judges have been selected, but their names have not been made public yet for security reasons. The prosecutor and the registrar have also been chosen, as has a management committee made up of countries that are helping pay the court's expenses.

A total of $50 million was required for the tribunal's start up costs plus the first year's budget. Mr. Ban's top legal advisor, Nicholas Michel, who briefed the Security Council Thursday on the court's status, said cash and pledges totaling some $60 million have been received. But despite the financial hurdle being cleared, Michel said it is up to the secretary-general to decide when the tribunal would start functioning.

Last May, the Security Council authorized the formation of the tribunal. It will eventually try individuals indicted for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 other people killed with him in a massive car bomb attack on Beirut's seaside in February 2005.

Mr. Hariri's assassination set off a wave of political killings in Lebanon against prominent anti-Syrian figures. Michel said the special tribunal has the authority to try persons indicted in the other political killings if it finds there are links between them and the Hariri case.

"There is also potentially, a possibility for the tribunal to extend its jurisdiction over more recent cases, but this decision would take an agreement between the United Nations and the government of Lebanon, plus the approval of the Security Council," said Mr. Michel.

Western diplomats expressed support for the court saying punishing the perpetrators would deter future political assassinations as well as help Lebanon move beyond a difficult period.

Many in Lebanon blame Syria for Mr. Hariri's murder, as well as several of the figures who have been assassinated since. Syria denies any involvement in the attacks.