Hariri Tribunal Opens in The Hague

The international tribunal created to try the suspected assassins of veteran former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al Hariri in 2005 has officially opened in The Hague.  High-ranking U.N. and international figures were present at the opening ceremony. UN special prosecutor Daniel says he will ask Lebanon to hand over four pro-Syrian generals held in connection with the assassination.

The Special Tribune for Lebanon began its first official day of operations, as registrar Robin Vincent called for a moment of silence to honor slain former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al Hariri and other victims, killed alongside him in a powerful explosion on Beirut's seafront boulevard, in February 2005.

The tribunal had taken months to set up and months to find donors to fund its operations.  Hariri's political allies, friends, family and supporters attending the opening session looked pleased as Vincent told them the victims and their families were a "chief motivation" for the tribunal's existence.

"Whilst the tribunal exists for many reasons, we should never lose sight of one of the principle reasons for its existence: the suffering of the victims and their families.  In the end, we are not here for the United Nations, nor are we here for the international community, but for Lebanon.  We are not here for the perpetrators of crimes, but for the victims of crimes.  And, above all and very simply, we are not here for ourselves, we are here for others," Vincent said.

VIPs, diplomats and journalists also attended the session at the tribunal's new home in what was once Dutch intelligence headquarters near The Hague.

The tribunal's chief prosecutor Daniel Bellemarre told Lebanon's Future TV, which is owned by the family of Rafiq al Hariri that he would "spare no effort to find the truth behind Mr. Hariri's killing ..." and that he would do "everything legally possible to bring (the killers) to justice."

In Beirut, supporters of Hariri and key allies from the governing March 14th coalition, gathered at Beirut's Martyr's Square, to lay a wreath at Mr. Hariri's tomb, and to remember him and other victims of a series of political assassinations.

Druze politician and former minister Marwan Hamadeh, who was also victim of a botched assassination attempt in 2004 that he accuses Syria of masterminding, hailed the tribunal's launch.

"It is the beginning of truth, the beginning of justice and I think that it is a page that is being opened in the history of Lebanon, the page of Justice, the end of impunity and it is a lesson for many regimes around us in the Middle East," Hamadeh said.

Journalist May Chidiac, a fervent opponent of Syria, who was also the victim of a car-bomb explosion that left her maimed, hoped that the tribunal would bring an end to the era of impunity for such crimes.

"We have suffered too much from killing and killing attempts and the explosions that were put here and there for many decades so now we hope this chapter will be over and will be closed," Chidiac said.

The tribunal was launched by the U.N. Security Council in June 2007 and has a three-year mandate, which may be renewed. The names of its panel of 11 judges, four of whom are Lebanese, are being kept secret for security reasons.

Many top Lebanese leaders, including Saad Hariri, son of the slain former prime minister, have accused Syria of involvement in his killing, a charge Damascus has steadfastly denied.

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