United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon vowed Wednesday that a U.N. tribunal investigating the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri would continue despite fears of violence and urged regional players not to interfere with the probe.
The U.N. chief strongly defended the tribunal's work Wednesday, saying the Netherlands-based court would not be deterred. He said the tribunal is independent and has a clear mandate from the Security Council "to uncover the truth and end impunity."
Ban urged "all Lebanese and regional parties" not to prejudge the outcome, nor to interfere in the tribunal's work.
Diplomats said the U.N. chief appeared to be directing his comments at Lebanon's pro-Syrian Hezbollah militia group, which has denounced the U.N. inquiry, and at neighboring Syria, which has been increasingly critical of it.
Analysts say tensions over the special tribunal investigating the Hariri slaying could push Lebanon to civil war if Hezbollah militants are indicted in the case. Fears of violence have intensified since rumors of the impending indictments began to circulate.
The director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, Paul Salem, said Monday he expects strains between the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Shi'ite group and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri -- son the slain former leader -- to worsen after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits Lebanon later this month.
Earlier this week, Syria's judiciary issued arrest warrants for 33 people, including senior Lebanese judges and international officials, over alleged false testimony given in the U.N.-backed probe.
The warrants were served against individuals named in a lawsuit filed in a Syrian court by former Lebanese Army General Jamil al-Sayyed, one of four pro-Syrian officers jailed for nearly four years in connection with Hariri's 2005 murder.
Syria has denied involvement in the assassination and says the warrants, issued Sunday, are not politically motivated. Hezbollah and Syria contend the tribunal has been poisoned by witnesses who have deliberately mislead the United Nations probe. Many Lebanese blame Syria for Hariri's death.
A deputy in Hariri's pro-Western parliamentary majority, Oqab Sakr, Monday called the warrants a "shocking development that targets relations" between the prime minister and the Syrian leadership.
A truck bombing in Beirut killed former Prime Minister Hariri and 22 others in February 2005.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.