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Assad Said to Reject Questioning in U.N. Inquiry

Syria tells investigators their request to talk with the president about the Hariri assassination violates its sovereignty, sources say.

January 08, 2006|From Reuters

BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar Assad has rejected a request to be interviewed by a United Nations commission investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, diplomatic sources said Saturday.

Syria told the U.N. commission the request violates the country's sovereignty, the sources said.

The decision is likely to intensify international pressure on the Damascus regime, given a U.N. Security Council resolution in October threatening to take unspecified action if Syria failed to fully cooperate with the inquiry.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. investigation confirmed that Syria had replied to a request to meet Assad and Foreign Minister Farouq Shara, among other officials, but refused to elaborate.

Asked whether Syria had rejected the request to meet Assad, one diplomatic source said, "Yes, that's true." The source added, "The main point is that Syria said the request violates the principles of sovereignty."

The diplomats, who asked not to be named, said Damascus has responded positively to "one part of the request" but declined to give further details. Diplomats said earlier that Syria had agreed to allow the commission to meet with Shara.

In an interview published Saturday by Egyptian weekly newspaper El Osboa, Assad hinted that he would be immune from questioning by U.N. investigators.

"There was a previous request, when the committee proposed to come to Syria at the end of last summer to listen to Syrian witnesses, as they call them. At that time, they requested to meet with President Bashar, and the president of the republic has international immunity," Assad said in the interview.

The inquiry has implicated senior Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies in the Feb. 14 killing of Hariri and 22 others in Beirut. Syria has denied any role, but the assassination sparked mass protests in Beirut, forcing Damascus to bow to world pressure and end its 29-year military presence in Lebanon in April.

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