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UN Delays Release of Bhutto Assassination Inquiry Report

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday accepted a request from Pakistan's president to delay until April 15 the release of a report on the December 2007 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The report was to have been released on Tuesday.

At the request of the Pakistani government, the Secretary-General appointed an independent commission last June to investigate the assassination of Ms. Bhutto. The commission, led by Chilean Ambassador to the U.N. Heraldo Munoz, interviewed a number of people, including several high ranking government officials in Pakistan.

Mr. Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, says the commission examined all "relevant facts and circumstances" into Ms. Bhutto's murder. He says the report is being held back because of an "urgent," overnight request Mr. Ban received from Ms. Bhutto's widower - Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. "This was an independent commission, set up by the Secretary-General. It was a request that came from the authorities - the government in Pakistan. Therefore, if a request is received from the head of state and government of a country, then the Secretary-General has to consider that. And he [Mr. Ban] has decided to accept this request for a delay in the presentation of the report," he said.

Nesirky says neither the Secretary-General nor the government of Pakistan has seen the report's contents. "The intention is that it will not be seen by the Pakistan government until the 15th [of April]," he said.

Earlier, a U.N. official who had been briefed on the commission's conclusions told VOA that the report faulted the Pakistani government for failing to adequately protect Benazir Bhutto and for scrubbing down the crime scene soon after she was killed.

Efforts to reach the Pakistani U.N. Mission to ask why the government requested the delay were unsuccessful. A spokeswoman for the head of the commission declined to give a statement because, she said, the commission had just been notified of the delay.

Although Pakistan and the United States initially blamed Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud for Ms. Bhutto's death, close allies of the former prime minister assert that government officials or her political rivals might have played a role.

The independent commission was supposed to submit its report at the end of last year, but Mr. Ban extended its mandate because of what he said was a "substantial amount of information" collected by investigators, and the need for more investigation.

After the report is delivered to the Pakistani authorities, it will be up to them to determine who is criminally responsible for Ms. Bhutto's death.