UN delays release of Bhutto slaying report

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - 10:25

United Nations: Bowing to Islamabad`s request, UN chief Ban Ki-moon delayed until mid-April the release of a sensitive report by an independent panel probing the 2007 slaying of Pakistani ex-premier Benazir Bhutto.



The delay was announced hours after all UN offices in Pakistan were ordered temporarily closed as a security precaution amid fears of a violent reaction to the report`s release.



"The secretary general has accepted an urgent request by the president of Pakistan (Asif Ali Zardari) to delay the presentation of the report... until 15 April 2010," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told a press briefing.



He gave no explanation as to the reason for the request by Zardari, Bhutto`s widower who himself was questioned by the inquiry panel on February 24.



The UN-appointed independent panel, which began its investigations last July into Bhutto`s killing, had been due to submit its findings to Ban on Wednesday.



Nesirky said the report would not be shown to the Pakistani government before April 15. Ban himself had not yet read the document, he added.

He said the commission informed Ban that "as of today, all relevant facts and circumstances have been explored, and the report is now complete and ready to be delivered."



Bhutto, the first woman to become prime minister of a Muslim country, was killed on December 27, 2007 in a gun and suicide attack after addressing an election rally in Rawalpindi, a garrison city near the capital Islamabad.



Her supporters cast doubt on an initial Pakistani probe into her death, questioning whether she was killed by a gunshot or the blast and criticizing authorities for hosing down the scene of the attack within minutes.



The delay was announced only two hours before the three-member inquiry commission was to give a press conference here on its findings. The press conference was also put off to mid-April.



The inquiry panel is headed by Chile`s UN ambassador Heraldo Munoz and includes Indonesian ex-attorney general Marzuki Darusman and Peter Fitzgerald, an Irish former police official.



Earlier Tuesday, a UN spokeswoman in Islamabad said all UN offices in Pakistan would close for three days from Wednesday as a security precaution.

"It`s a precautionary measure to avoid any unwanted situation that may occur after the publication of this report, for the safety and security of staff members," Ishrat Rizvi told AFP.



She added that staff were being advised to work from home in a bid to avoid any possible fallout.



The measure affects more than 2,000 staff in dozens of offices around the nuclear-armed country with a population of 167 million.



Rizvi later said UN staff in Islamabad were still unaware that the release of the report had been delayed.



"A new announcement has not yet come. Offices will remain closed tomorrow at least and we will then assess the situation," she noted.



On October 5, a suicide bomber clad in military uniform attacked the heavily fortified UN World Food Program office in Islamabad, killing five staff members.



Security is precarious in parts of Pakistan, where more than 3,150 people have been killed in suicide and bomb attacks over the last three years. The violence has been blamed on militants opposed to the government`s US alliance.



The enquiry panel last November also questioned former president Pervez Musharraf on issues central to its mandate, which is limited to fact-finding and does not include a criminal investigation.



Musharraf, who was in power at the time of Bhutto`s death, was replaced in August 2008 as president by Zardari, whose party called for a UN inquiry to probe inconsistencies surrounding her killing.



British detectives, who also conducted an inquiry, ruled that Bhutto died from the force of a suicide bomb and not gunfire, backing the Pakistani government`s controversial account.



Bhutto, the first of whose two stints as prime minister began in 1988, wrote in her autobiography of warnings that four suicide squads -- including one sent by a son of Osama bin Laden -- were after her.



She also repeatedly accused a cabal of senior Pakistani intelligence and government officials of plotting to kill her, notably in an attack that killed 139 people in Karachi on October 18, 2007 when she returned from exile.


Bureau Report



First Published: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - 10:25
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