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UN Agrees to Help in Gemayel Assassination Probe

The U.N. Security Council has approved a Lebanese government request for help investigating the assassination of cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel. VOA correspondent Peter Heinlein has details from our U.N. bureau.

The 15-member Security Council responded swiftly to Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's request for assistance in the Gemayel murder probe.

Mr. Siniora wrote to Secretary-General Kofi Annan asking that the Gemayel murder be added to the U.N. inquiry into last year's assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The request was delivered just over 24 hours after the prominent anti-Syrian minister was gunned down in a Beirut suburb.

After a hastily-called meeting late Wednesday, the Council president for November, Peruvian Ambassador Jorge Voto-Bernales said there was unanimous agreement to extend the Hariri probe's mandate.

"I just signed the letter," said Jorge Voto-Bernales. "We're sending the letter tonight to the Secretary General so he can proceed."

The Council approved a resolution in June authorizing the investigative commission headed by Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz to expand its Hariri assassination probe to include 14 other political killings in Lebanon. Brammertz had earlier reported that the killings appeared to be linked.

Denmark's U.N. Ambassador Ellen Margrethe Loj emerged from Wednesday's Council session saying normal procedures for expanding the investigation to include the Gemayel killing had been bypassed because of the urgency of the matter.

"Normally we would have it in written procedure, but the thing is that it's urgent for the investigation to proceed, so the sooner we respond to the Secretary-General, the quicker Mr. Brammertz can give technical assistance to the Lebanese investigation," said Ellen Margrethe Loj .

A day earlier, the Council endorsed the creation of an international tribunal to try suspects in the Hariri murder. But the Gemayel assassination could undermine efforts to establish the court.

Gemayel, a vocal critic of Syria, had voted last week with the anti-Syrian majority in Prime Minister Siniora's government to tentatively approve the tribunal plan. That vote came after six opposition ministers resigned, prompting Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud to declare the vote illegitimate.

With Gemayel's death and the six resignations, the Siniora government is down to 17 members, one more than the constitutional minimum. If two more ministers die or resign, the government would be unable to approve the creation of the tribunal.

Secretary-General Annan said late Wednesday he is extremely worried about the political climate in Lebanon.

"The situation is delicate, very fragile, and we should all do whatever we can to support the Lebanese people and government, and encourage them to stand united," said Kofi Annan.

In a report to the Security Council last week, Mr. Annan called for creation of the Hariri tribunal outside Lebanon.

The U.N. draft proposal envisions a tribunal with more international than Lebanese judges and an international prosecutor. Mr. Annan said having a non-Lebanese majority on the court would help ensure its independence.

Syria has vehemently denied involvement in the killings, and issued a statement this week condemning the Pierre Gemayel assassination as a "heinous crime". Syrian officials say the political assassinations in Lebanon are part of a plot aimed at undermining Syria's long-standing influence in neighboring Lebanon.