An international court set up to try the suspected killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has opened in the Netherlands, on Sunday 03/01/2009. The court, with 11 judges, was created in 2007 by the UN (see – UN-STL). A trial date has yet to be set and court officials have said proceedings could last for five years.

The tribunal, sitting at the Hague, is expected to ask Lebanon to hand over four pro-Syrian generals held over the 02/14/2005 killing within weeks.

The Canadian prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare, has 60 days to ask the Lebanese authorities for suspects to be transferred to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. “I will submit an indictment when I am satisfied personally and professionally that I have enough evidence,” he said at the ceremonial opening of the tribunal.

The four men in custody were pro-Syrian generals who all held senior positions in the country’s security infrastructure. They are former head of General Security Maj Gen Jamil al-Sayyad, former chief of police Maj Gen Ali Hajj, former military intelligence chief Brig Gen Raymond Azar and Republican Guard commander Mustafa Hamdan.

Last week, probably under Damascus dictate, three civilians, two of them Lebanese and one Syrian, were released from Lebanese custody.

The assassination caused such a public outcry in Lebanon that Syria was forced to withdraw its troops, ending its 30-year domination of Lebanon, and changing the course of the country’s history.

Damascus has always denied it had anything to do with the attack, but in its early stages the UN investigation implicated top-level Syrian security officials, including the president’s brother-in-law. However, the current investigator has been much less outspoken and it is not clear whether the tribunal will have enough evidence to prove a link to Syria.

And some in Lebanon are skeptical about whether the tribunal will ever be able to uncover the full truth – especially because the overall political climate in the region has changed. (The Syrian indirect peace talks with Israel, which legitimized the Syrian regime in Europe, and the new Obama’s administration in USA). Syria and Lebanon have recently established diplomatic ties and the West is keen to improve its relations with Damascus.

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