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Mikati heads to NY with no deal on STL funding

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati will head to New York this weekend without Cabinet agreement on Lebanon’s share of funding for the United Nations-backed court probing the assassination of statesman Rafik Hariri, a political source said Monday.

This week’s two Cabinet meetings will avoid the divisive issue, meaning Mikati will travel Saturday to the U.N. Security Council with Lebanon still undecided on when it will pay its dues to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a source familiar with negotiations told The Daily Star.

It added that “under the table” talks were however ongoing, with Lebanon obliged under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1757 to pay over $30 million of court-running costs – something it has failed to do in 2011.

“The Lebanese government is committed to implementing international resolutions especially those related to the funding of the STL,” the source said.

A spokesperson for the court said it had repeatedly asked Beirut for its share this year.

“Our position has not changed on this issue. Lebanon is obliged to contribute 49 per cent of the STL expenditure. It has not yet done so for 2011,” spokesperson Marten Youssef said. “We have reminded the Lebanese government several times and we trust they will fulfill their promises.”

Youssef added that the court had been surviving off handouts from other countries and said that Lebanon’s tardiness in financial support had not affected the running of The Hague-based tribunal.

“In the absence of Lebanon’s contribution we have been relying on the voluntary contributions of other countries. We continue to work in the most efficient way possible with or without Lebanon’s contributions,” he said.

The issue of STL funding has divided political circles, with those in favor of the court insisting Lebanon would be reneging on an international agreement if it refused to come up with the cash. Hezbollah, the tribunal’s most strident opponent, has called for a boycott of what it calls “an Israeli project.”

The Cabinet’s policy statement, while pledging to honor international commitments, stopped short of explicitly promising to continue supporting the STL.

Mikati is set to meet at the Security Council – where Lebanon holds the presidency throughout September – with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Although the prime minister is expected to voice Lebanon’s support for the STL, it now appears that he will be unable announce any concrete funding commitment.

State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza submitted Monday the judiciary’s first monthly report on the progress of the hunt for the four suspects named by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Mustapha Amine Badreddine, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Hassan Assad Sabra were all accused back in June by STL Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare of being involved in the car bomb that killed Hariri and 22 others on Feb. 14, 2005.

Authorities in Beirut said they conducted extensive searches for the men, all of whom are members of Hezbollah, following the issuing of international arrest warrants, but were unable to apprehend the suspects.

STL President Antonio Cassese, after reading Mirza’s initial report on the manhunt, said the efforts made by security forces to capture the accused were “not sufficient,” and ordered Mirza to file monthly progress reports to The Hague.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, in a televised speech shortly after the filing of the court’s first indictment, vowed the four individuals would not be arrested “even in 300 years.”

Mirza said that the content of the periodical report would remain confidential in line with Lebanon’s cooperation agreement with the court, although Cassese has made the contents of documents sent from Beirut public in the past.

The state prosecutor also announced that the case files of slain former Communist Party Leader George Hawi, former Deputy Prime Minister Elias Murr and Former Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh had been sent to the tribunal, as requested by Cassese.

STL Pre-Trial Judge Daniel Fransen has ruled that the assassination of Hawi and the attempts on the lives of Murr and Hamadeh could be related to the attack that killed Hariri.

The U.N.-backed court will now investigate the case files.

Mirza added that the investigation into a controversial TIME interview, which purported to feature an interview with one of the four indicted men, was continuing.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 20, 2011, on page 2.
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