UN: Hariri indictments will stay sealed for weeks

Associated Press
The head of Hezbollah's 12-member parliamentary bloc Mohammed Raad speaks during a press conference at the Parliament in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010. Hezbollah continued its campaign to discredit the international tribunal set up to prosecute the assassins of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, with a top official saying it is "unconstitutional." Raad told reporters that the tribunal was approved by an "illegitimate" Lebanese government in 2006, but was not approved by the parliament or by then president Emile Lahoud, a strong Hezbollah ally. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
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The head of Hezbollah's 12-member parliamentary bloc Mohammed Raad speaks during a press conference at …

A spokesman for the U.N. tribunal investigating the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister said Wednesday it will be weeks or even several months before the details of expected indictments are made public.

The Netherlands-based tribunal investigating the 2005 killing of Rafik Hariri in a massive Beirut truck bombing is expected to issue its first indictments as soon as this month.

But a court spokesman, Crispin Thorold, said that the contents will remain confidential until confirmed by the pretrial judge, which could take "at least six to 10 weeks" from the time the indictments are submitted.

The court has kept silent on possible suspects, but several foreign media reports have said the court has evidence that members of Hezbollah, the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Shiite militant group, were behind the assassination. That is raising fears of more violence in the fractured country.

Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who was Lebanon's most prominent politician in the years after the 1975-1990 civil war, might have made enemies by seeking in the last few months of his life to limit Syria's influence in the country, a legacy of the years of conflict.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has also said he expects members of his group to be indicted, but has accused the court of bias. The group has fiercely denied any role in the killing, and Nasrallah has said the group "will cut off the hand" of anyone who tries to arrest any of its members.

The group controls a military force more powerful than the national army and has broad political influence, including as part of the fragile governing coalition.

Speculation and tension over the tribunal have paralyzed the country. The Cabinet has not met since Nov. 10 and a national dialogue committee working for a defense strategy that could eventually integrate Hezbollah's weapons into the Lebanese regular armed forces has not met since last month when Hezbollah and its allies boycotted the talks.

Thorold, the tribunal spokesman, said that once the indictments are submitted, it will be weeks before the names of the accused or any evidence against them is released publicly.

During that time, the pretrial judge will review the indictments and any supporting material and clarify any legal issues before confirming or dismissing all or part of the indictments.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, continued its campaign to discredit the international tribunal. The head of Hezbollah's 12-member parliamentary bloc, Mohammed Raad, described it Thursday as "unconstitutional."

Hezbollah says the tribunal is not legal because Lebanon's Cabinet approved it in 2006 after the resignation of five Shiite ministers. Hezbollah and its allies say the government at the time was no longer legitimate because the constitution requires that "all sects should be justly represented in the Cabinet."

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Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report.

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