Crime experts finally head to Lebanon
Switzerland has agreed to dispatch five crime experts to Lebanon to join the United Nations investigation into the murder of Rafik Hariri.
The former prime minister was killed by a car bomb in Beirut on February 14.
Last week the Swiss justice ministry turned down a request from the Lebanese government to assist an independent inquiry into Hariri’s death.
The Swiss authorities said they were only prepared to collaborate with the UN mission.
Its head, Irish deputy police commissioner Peter Fitzgerald, asked the Swiss to join the investigation on Tuesday.
According to the Federal Police Office, the five experts will head to Lebanon within the next few days.
The UN has promised to pay all expenses related to the investigation and says it will provide security for the Swiss team.
Four of the investigators belong to the Zurich police. Two are explosives experts, while the other two are forensic specialists.
Armasuisse, the defence ministry’s procurement and technology centre, is sending a ballistics specialist.
The Swiss will be asked to collect as much evidence as they can about the bomb attack and analyse this information. Their conclusions will be part of Fitzgerald’s final report to the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan.
Both Lebanon and the UN asked Switzerland to take part in the investigations because of the country’s neutral status.
After turning down the Lebanese request, the foreign ministry said last Friday that the UN mission was the appropriate framework for any collaboration. This decision was communicated to Lebanon and Annan.
A spokesman for the Lebanese president’s office said at the time that the country was surprised by Switzerland’s decision.
But he expressed the hope that a solution could still be found to allow Swiss experts to take part in an investigation.
Hariri’s death sent shock waves across Lebanon and around the world. Many commentators believe Syria, which occupies the country, is behind the bomb blast that killed 19 people. Syria has repeatedly denied this.
Lebanon’s pro-Syrian government has been forced to step down, and the opposition has been demonstrating daily in Beirut against the presence of 14,000 Syrian troops.
At a meeting in Cairo on Thursday, Arab leaders publicly urged Syria to follow through on a 1989 accord to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
Syria has said it would comply with the accord. But the Syrians allegedly told Arab leaders earlier this week that they want a broader arrangement – including the resumption of peace talks with Israel – as part of any troop withdrawal from Lebanon.
swissinfo with agencies
A car bomb killed 19 people - including the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri - in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, on February 14.
Four days later, the Lebanese government asked the Swiss to take part in an independent investigation into the bombing.
The Swiss turned down the request, stating that only the UN could provide the appropriate framework.
On March 3 the Swiss accepted the UN's request for assistance.
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