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Lebanese generals to face court in slaying

BEIRUT -- Lebanese prosecutors filed preliminary criminal charges yesterday against four pro-Syrian generals in the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Prosecutor-General Said Mirza said the suspects will appear before an investigating magistrate today. The magistrate is to interrogate them, then determine whether to issue formal charges, in accordance with Lebanon's criminal system.

The preliminary charge was brought on the basis of a United Nations investigation into the killing of Hariri, who was slain in a massive Beirut bomb blast on Feb. 14, four months after he resigned as prime minister in a leadership power struggle.

The four suspects are Major General Jamil Sayyed, the former chief of general security; Major General Ali Hajj, the former director general of the Internal Security Forces; Brigadier General Raymond Azar, the former head of military intelligence, and Brigadier General Mustafa Hamdan, the commander of the Presidential Guards.

Earlier yesterday, the chief UN investigator leading the inquiry into Hariri's assassination said he believed more people beyond those suspects were involved in the assassination.

Detlev Mehlis also said his UN Security Council-ordered probe into Hariri's death had not yet identified any Syrian suspects but added that there had been problems with Syrian cooperation.

The investigation into Hariri's assassination took a dramatic turn with Tuesday's detention of three pro-Syrian generals -- Sayyed, Hajj, and Azar -- who led Lebanon's security services when Hariri was killed but resigned in the ensuing political upheaval.

Hamdan had surrendered for questioning, as did Nasser Qandil, a pro-Syrian former lawmaker who has since been released.

President Emile Lahoud, reacting to the arrest of the generals, three of whom were close associates, vowed to stay in office. But in a sign Lahoud might not readily accept the findings, he instructed Lebanon's judiciary to review the UN team's conclusions with those obtained by the Lebanese side.

The president ''affirms to the Lebanese that he will continue to shoulder the responsibility in safeguarding the constitution and the laws," spokesman Rafik Shalala said.

Lahoud's opponents began calling for his resignation before Hariri's assassination. The demands intensified after anti-Syrian groups swept to power in Lebanese parliamentary elections in May and June.

Mehlis said he was willing to go to Damascus to meet Syrian officials, and recommended to the Lebanese authorities that they keep holding the four generals. However, he added: ''The presumption of innocence stands."

Many Lebanese blamed Syria and its Lebanese allies for Hariri's death. The claims repeatedly have been denied by Syria and pro-Damascus Lebanese authorities.

Hariri's killing sparked massive protests here that led to the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon after 29 years and the ouster of Lebanon's pro-Damascus government.

The UN probe was expected to send shock waves through neighboring Syria by again raising suspicion that Damascus had a role in Hariri's slaying.

Asked about the cooperation received from Syria, Mehlis said he was ''confident we will be able to get the necessary information from Syria.

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