Tuesday,April 03,2007

BEIRUT, April 2(Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Syria on Monday to play a positive role in Lebanon and to cooperate with international efforts to put the suspected killers of Lebanese ex-premier Rafik al-Hariri on trial.

Merkel, on a one-day visit to Lebanon at the end of a Middle East tour, pledged more support to Lebanese security forces and the establishment of a U.N.-backed court to try suspects in the assassination of Hariri and other political attacks.

"We want Lebanon to remain an independent, democratic country whose independence is accepted in the region," she told a joint news conference with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

"Syria should also contribute so that Lebanon develops as an independent state and that it recognises Lebanon diplomatically," Merkel said through an interpreter.

She said Syria should also halt the smuggling of weapons to Lebanon and demarcate its border with its smaller neighbour. Syria pulled its troops from Lebanon two months after Hariri was killed in February 2005, ending three decades of military domination. A U.N. probe has implicated Lebanese and Syrian security officials in Hariri’s killing but Syria denies any links.

A U.N.-backed tribunal is one of the key issues dividing Siniora’s government from the opposition spearheaded by Hezbollah, which is allied to Syria and Iran.

The five-month-old political crisis in Lebanon over opposition demands for veto power in government has derailed parliament’s approval of the court.

The opposition says it supports the tribunal in principle, but wants to ensure it cannot be exploited politically. Siniora and his allies say the opposition wants to block the court to protect Syria.

"We will do our best to establish this court without any excuses," Merkel said. "Syria must do everything to meet the requests of the commission investigating Hariri’s killing."

Merkel also held talks with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, an opposition leader and a close ally of Hezbollah, and parliamentary majority leader Saad al-Hariri, the slain Hariri’s son and political heir.

She was due to visit a German naval frigate patrolling the Lebanese coast as part of an expanded U.N. peacekeeping force overseeing a truce between Israel and Hezbollah that ended a 34-day war in August last year.