BEIRUT: The defence chief of a U.N.-backed court which has indicted four Hezbollah members in the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's ex-premier Rafiq Hariri on Tuesday urged them to quickly consult a lawyer.
Those wanted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which last week handed Lebanese authorities four arrest warrants for the Hariri murder, are now fugitives from international law, Francois Roux said.
"As of the moment the arrest warrants are issued, whoever is charged is no longer a free person and becomes a fugitive," Roux told AFP in an interview during a visit to Beirut.
"My only advice to those charged is that they consult a lawyer as soon as possible," he said.
"An arrest warrant issued by an international tribunal is very important and the only person who can now free the charged of the charges, and again render them free individuals, is a lawyer.
"Now is the time for defence."
The tribunal last week issued a sealed indictment for the assassination of Hariri, a powerful Saudi-backed Sunni billionaire and politician, along with arrest warrants for four Lebanese.
Lebanese officials have confirmed the four are operatives of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, including Mustafa Badreddine, a brother-in-law of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh who was assassinated in Damascus in 2008.
The STL, the first international court with the jurisdiction to try an act of terrorism, has triggered a deep political crisis in Lebanon, leading to the collapse in January of the country's Western-backed unity government.
Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, on Saturday said he would never hand over the four members of his group, adding the Netherlands-based court was heading for a trial in absentia.
The whereabouts of the four accused is unknown.
Nasrallah has repeatedly dismissed the tribunal as a US-Israeli conspiracy against his Shiite group, charging that Israel itself was behind the February 14, 2005 bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others in Beirut.
Lebanon now has 30 days to find and arrest the four named in the warrants. If no arrests are made, the court can publicise their names and call on the accused to surrender within a month.