BEIRUT (Reuters) - A senior U.N. official on Tuesday vowed that an international tribunal into a series of political killings in Lebanon would be set up and it was time for divided Lebanese leaders to approve the court.
U.N. legal counsel Nicholas Michel was speaking at the start of a visit to Beirut aimed at bridging differences between rival Lebanese leaders over the tribunal, which has been at the heart of the worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Lebanese newspapers billed his visit as a last chance to find consensus on the tribunal for suspects in the killing in 2005 of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and other deadly attacks.
Without Lebanese approval, the U.N. Security Council may move to set up the court independently.
Michel said many Security Council members still wanted Lebanon to fully approve the tribunal. But normal channels of government in Beirut have been paralysed by a five-month-long standoff between the governing coalition and its opponents.
“The ratification process faces serious obstacles,” Michel said. But he added: “There should be no doubt, there will be a tribunal.”
Establishment of the tribunal is a priority for the anti-Syrian government which accuses Damascus of killing Hariri and other figures since his assassination. The cabinet approved U.N. plans for the court in November.
But the opposition, including Syria’s allies in Lebanon, dispute the legitimacy of the cabinet. Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, a key opposition leader, has refused to call the chamber to vote on the document.
Michel, who is due to meet the main political rivals, said his visit was aimed “at revitalising the ratification process”.
“It will take at least one year after the adoption of its legal basis for the tribunal to become operational,” he said. “But now is the time for the adoption of the legal basis.”
Siniora last week wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asking the Security Council to take steps towards establishing the tribunal. Siniora and his allies argue that their efforts to secure parliamentary approval have failed.
Ban said last month it was premature to talk of setting up the tribunal under Chapter 7 of the U.N.’s charter, which would make it mandatory under international law.
Hezbollah, part of the opposition, said such a step could lead to civil war. The opposition says it fears the court will be used as a political weapon against it. It agrees in principle to the idea but wants to discuss the tribunal’s mandate.