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Deadline Comes for Lebanon to Ratify Tribunal


Before he arrived in Albania, President Bush took a moment to deliver a warning to Syria - stop interfering in Lebanon. Not long ago, Syria pretty much controlled its Arabs neighbor. Then Lebanon's ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated - many Lebanese blamed Syria. The Syrians denied any involvement, but pulled nearly all of their troops out of Lebanon.

The U.N. Security Council is now setting up an international tribunal to try suspects in the Hariri case. Today is the deadline for Lebanon to ratify that court.


NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Beirut.

PETER KENYON: The Lebanese army is encircling Palestinian refugee camps and launching daily attacks against Islamist militants in one of them - the Nahr el-Bared Camp near Tripoli. Security forces are on high alert, patrolling the Bekaa Valley and areas along the Syrian border looking for militants and weapons. Several explosions in and around Beirut in recent weeks have residents on edge.

Many Lebanese are convinced that Syria has had a hand in the violence because Damascus is determined to undermine any international court that might implicate Syrian officials in the massive explosion that killed Rafik Hariri and more than 20 others on Valentine's Day 2005.

The pro-Syrian head of Lebanon's parliament refused to convene lawmakers to ratify the tribunal, so the U.N. Security Council at the urging of the U.S., France and others approved what's known as a Chapter VII Resolution establishing the tribunal.

At the sprawling office complex built for Hariri's political party, visitors are greeted by security measures noticeably tighter than those at many embassies. Inside, former lawmaker Ratas Kurie(ph) says the establishment of the tribunal will be a milestone in Lebanon's push for independence.


Mr. RATAS KURIE (Former Member, National Assembly, Lebanon): I think on Monday, which is - will be the 11th - we will have a new era in Lebanon. A new era whereby the international tribunal is gone into effect, and we will hope to participate with the international community in bringing the assassins of Rafik Hariri and his friends to justice.

KENYON: It will be many months - possibly a year or more - before a tribunal could actually begin to sit in judgment of any defendants in the Hariri case -a host country must be chosen, judges selected, security and financial arrangements work out. The lead prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, has seen his mandate extended well into next year. Kurie says it's impossible to say when the enemies of the tribunal might strike again, but he says the violence is a sign of how potent the case remains.

Mr. KURIE: Somebody has promised that there will be chaos in Lebanon and security problems from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea; and apparently, it started in the north of Lebanon, and this is because they fear the international tribunal.

KENYON: Professor Sharik Maseri(ph), an international law specialist, says beyond the risks and potential rewards for Lebanese politics. A Hariri tribunal would also open a new chapter in the development of international justice. U.N. resolutions have classified the Hariri assassination as an act of terrorism. Maseri says previous tribunals have dealt with crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide. This, says Maseri, would be a new step.

Professor SHARIK MASERI (International Law Specialist): Because this is the first time in the history of international legal system, this court will form the first legal machinery to try and convict perpetrators of terrorism. It will become, I believe, a model, as Nuremberg was in 1945.

KENYON: Some here note a certain irony in the situation. That the administration of George W. Bush - widely criticized for its unilateral actions in prosecuting the war against terrorism - is now one of the strongest champions for bringing a terrorism case before an international court.

Meanwhile in the coming months, preparations for the Hariri tribunal will slowly advance, as Lebanese factions struggle to break the impasse that's threatening to topple the government of Prime Minister Fouad Sinioura. Opposition politicians say this tribunal solves none of the issues in that dispute.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Beirut.

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