Syria studies U.N. request to question six officials

Syria is considering a U.N. request to question six Syrian officials in its investigation of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a Foreign Ministry official said Monday. The official declined to disclose the identities of the people that the U.N. investigators want to question, or say whether the United Nations wanted to question them in Syria or outside.

But a Lebanese official close to the U.N. commission told The Associated Press on Saturday that the investigators want to see Gen. Assef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Assad, among others.

In an interim report to the U.N. Security Council last month, chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis implicated Shawkat and the president's younger brother, Maher Assad.

The interim report accused the Syrian government of cooperating with the commission only to a "limited degree" and said its representatives attended meetings in which the investigators questioned Syrian officials about the assassination.

Last week the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that upgraded the powers of commission, giving Mehlis the right to question anybody at any location and under conditions of his choice. The resolution demanded that Syria cooperate fully with the commission and warned the country of further measures if it failed to do so.

The pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat reported on the weekend that among the Syrians that Mehlis wanted to question were Shawkat; Maj. Gen. Bahjat Suleiman, a former chief of Syria's internal intelligence; and Brig. Gen. Rustum Ghazale, the Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon when Hariri was assassinated on Feb. 14.

Syria's Foreign Ministry received the request to interview the officials from Mehlis on Sunday, the ministry official told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press, reports the AP. I.L.

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