Syria denies U.N. charges over cooperation

Syria on Tuesday objected to U.N. accusations that it was hampering an inquiry into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and complained of violations in the questioning of five officials.

"We disagree with the inaccurate remarks in the (U.N.) report that indicate slowness on the part of Syria in offering full cooperation with the work of the international investigation committee," it said in a statement to the U.N. Security Council.

The statement, obtained by Reuters in Damascus, said the U.N. panel had agreed to uphold guarantees set in international pacts for questioning, "but the investigators did not adhere to these principles in the investigation sessions in Vienna".

It said the British lawyers of the officials had complained to the committee that their clients' testimonies were summarised and the officials had signed them although they had no chance to verify their remarks because they were documented in a language they did not know.

The statement said Damascus had informed the panel that Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara was willing to meet the head of the U.N. investigation team in Damascus "or during one of his official visits to Europe". It did not say what would be the purpose of the meeting with German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who is heading the inquiry.

Syria "affirms its willingness to cooperate with the investigation in the coming period, and calls upon your esteemed Council to take into consideration the remarks in this statement", said the statement.

To avert a showdown with the world body, Syria has allowed U.N. investigators to question five officials in Vienna.

Syria says its cooperation with the inquiry should prevent any punitive action. The Security Council has warned of unspecified action against Damascus if it fails to cooperate.

Syria criticised the report by Mehlis presented to the security council on Monday and said it had shortcomings similar to those in the initial report issued on October 25, which Syria slammed then as politicised, Reuters reports.


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