BEIRUT: Lebanese Army Commander Jean Kahwaji stressed Thursday that the military would firmly oppress any attempts to instigate strife or tamper with the country’s security.
Kahwaji made his remarks amid escalating fears of security instability that could threaten civil peace if the impending indictment by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) accuses members of Hizbullah in former Premier Rafik Hariri’s murder, an accusation that analysts said could lead to Sunni-Shiite armed conflict.
Following a meeting with a number of army commanders, Kahwaji said that differences in opinions among the Lebanese should remain restricted to their democratic aspects rather than be tied to a “language of divisions and strife that constitute danger against the country.”
Media reports have recently warned that several political parties of both the parliamentary opposition and majority camps were arming in anticipation of future clashes that could break out after the release of the STL’s indictment.
While regional powerbrokers Syria and Saudi Arabia remain divided with regard to the STL, the Saudi Embassy in Lebanon on Thursday urged rival Lebanese parties to reconcile whereas the Syrian president on Wednesday voiced concerns over the situation in Lebanon.
A statement released by the Saudi Embassy in Lebanon stressed Thursday that the Lebanese were in dire need of comprehensive national reconciliation to enable them to resolve disputed issues, implement justice, preserve stability and overcome the past phase.
The statement quoted King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz urging the Lebanese to unite and reconcile to build together a better future.
While Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Wednesday that the tribunal was strictly a Lebanese affair after criticizing earlier the court as politicized, the US and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon rallied in support of the STL on Wednesday.
Ban vowed that a UN tribunal would press ahead despite fears of violence and urged regional players not to interfere.
Similarly, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice reiterated the US support for the STL to put an end to assassinations that go unpunished.
“It is very important to remember that the Lebanese government and people were the ones who requested the International Tribunal, and the United Nations provided support for their wish,” Rice said. “The court cannot be a bargaining ship or political football game as well as a door for the intervention of foreigners.”
On the Lebanese domestic scene, the Cabinet is scheduled to discuss on Tuesday the issue of false witnesses after Shiite ministers of Speaker Nabih Berri’s Development and Liberation bloc announced on Wednesday that they would suspend their participation in future Cabinet sessions if the session scheduled for Tuesday did not tackle the issue of false witnesses.
Well-informed sources told The Daily Star on Thursday that a new report was being prepared by the Justice Ministry on the issue of false witnesses given the emergence of new facts.
The source said Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar was in the process of amending the old report on the legal framework governing the issue of false witnesses upon the demand of Premier Saad Hariri and the approval of President Michel Sleiman.
Parliamentary sources said Najjar’s first report was going to recommend putting on hold the trial of false witnesses until the release of the STL’s indictment, a recommendation that opposition forces have rejected.
The source added that Hariri asked Najjar to reconsider his old report after Berri’s step as well as objections by March 14 parties over the old report’s demands that investigations be extended to cover false witnesses linked to opposition forces.
Sources of the March 14 coalition indicated that former Lebanese security forces loyal to Syria tampered with the crime scene in an attempt to hide evidence while former State Prosecutor Adnan Addoum accused immediately after the murder an Islamic group that left for Australia of being behind the crime.
The sources added that contrary to media reports, ministers loyal to Berri raised the issue of false witnesses in Wednesday’s session after coordinating their step with Hizbullah.
“Because if Hizbullah ministers raised the issue, it would have led to sectarian tensions in the Cabinet while ministers loyal to the speaker are regarded as representatives of the nation rather than a party,” the source said.
The source added that the step was taken despite a prior understanding to postpone deliberations on the issue after indications surfaced that the impending indictment would be issued earlier than expected.
However, other sources told The Daily Star that Najjar’s report would be briefly presented in Tuesday’s session but deliberations over it would be postponed till after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon, which is expected to take place from October 13 to 14.