France’s new government pledges solidarity to Lebanon

23May07

France said on Thursday that the international community was determined to set up an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, on his first trip abroad since being appointed less than a week ago, told a Beirut news conference “France and the international community are determined to establish the tribunal to try the assassins.”

He flew in on Thursday for a two-day trip billed by the foreign ministry as a reaffirmation of “French solidarity with Lebanon and its people during a critical period.”

His visit comes at a time when the country’s army and a tiny Islamist militant group are facing off at a Palestinian refugee camp in the north of the country after three days of fighting that killed at least 69 people.

Kouchner was to meet Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, parliament speaker Nabih Berri and other officials.

“The international community will never accept threats and terrorism, and we are determined to vote at the (UN) Security Council a resolution to establish the international tribunal,” he told reporters.

A draft put forward by the United States, France and Britain to set up the proposed court to hear the Hariri case is currently before the 15-member council. No date has yet been set for a vote.

Hariri and 22 other people were killed by a massive bomb blast in February 2004, widely blamed on Syria which was then forced to end nearly 30 years of military and political domination in Lebanon.

Damascus denied any involvement in the killing.

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