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Mikati, Safadi trade blame over delays in STL funding
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, left, speaks with caretaker Minister Mohammad Safadi during a Cabinet session in Beirut, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, left, speaks with caretaker Minister Mohammad Safadi during a Cabinet session in Beirut, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)
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BEIRUT: Top officials traded blame Sunday for delays in funding the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, amid escalating diplomatic pressure on Lebanon to pay its dues to the court.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati denied in a statement claims made by Finance Minister Mohammed Safadi that he delayed the payment by referring the decree to the Audit Bureau first instead of the Finance Ministry.

“The office of the prime minister regrets to reveal the inaccurate claim by the finance minister because the prime minister ordered the ministry to pay the funds right after the payment decree was approved,” Mikati’s office said in a statement.

Safadi said in remarks to Al-Mustaqbal that he was surprised that Mikati referred the payment decree to the Audit Bureau for consideration instead of directly sending it to his ministry.

Earlier this month, Mikati and President Michel Sleiman approved the payment decree meant to allow the transfer of funds from the budget reserves to the Finance Ministry.

The procedure to pay the Lebanon’s share of the STL funding stipulates that Safadi prepares the payment decree before sending it to Mikati and Sleiman for their signatures.

Lebanon owes the Hague-based court, set up to try those responsible for the 2005 attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others, nearly $38 million.

Safadi responded to Mikati’s denial, saying the Finance Ministry prepared the decree and sent it back to the premier’s office after obtaining the president’s signature.

“We continue to receive signs from the Lebanese government that they will honor their commitment but there is no money that has been transferred yet, unfortunately,” STL spokesman Marten Youssef told The Daily Star.

Mikati’s rhetoric coincided with intensified diplomatic pressure on Lebanon to pay its contribution.

Last week, the EU issued a statement calling on Lebanon to fulfill its financial obligations to the court. U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his support for the STL in a letter to Sleiman last month, pointing out the American contribution to the budget.

Lebanese officials have floated several proposals in recent months on the STL funding, including paying the contribution in three installments.

Youssef said the court was aware that there was intent to pay the funds but said it would not weigh in on the mechanism.

“This is an internal matter for the people of Lebanon,” he said.

Youssef also confirmed that the court’s 2014 budget has been approved by the Management Committee, a group of states including Lebanon that oversees its work, and sent to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

A letter asking Lebanon to contribute to the 2014 budget will likely be sent soon by Ban’s office.

The mounting debt will pose an even greater challenge to Lebanon, but the court is likely to continue relying on funds from other states in the meantime, rather than report Lebanon’s lack of cooperation.

Youssef said the court believes it is only a matter of time before the contribution is made.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 23, 2013, on page 1.
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