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UN report claims Bhutto assassination 'preventable'

In a much-anticipated report released late Thursday, a UN inquiry concluded that Pakistan failed to provide adequate security to late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and that the authorities attempted to hamper the inquiry.


AFP - Pakistani police deliberately failed to properly probe the 2007 murder of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto which could have been averted by better security, a UN-appointed panel said Thursday.

"Ms Bhutto's assassination could have been prevented if adequate security measures had been taken," said the report by the independent three-member panel headed by Chile's UN ambassador Heraldo Munoz.

And the panel said in its hard-hitting report that it believed the Pakistani police's failure to probe the slaying effectively "was deliberate."

"These officials, in part fearing intelligence agencies' involvement, were unsure of how vigorously they ought to pursue actions, which they knew, as professionals, they should have taken," it added.

The panel said in its 65-page report that responsibility for Bhutto's security on the day of her assassination rested with "the federal government, the government of Punjab and the Rawalpindi district police."

"None of these entities took the necessary measures to respond to the extraordinary, fresh, urgent security risks that they knew she faced," it added.

It noted that the Pakistani government failed to provide Bhutto with the same stringent and specific security measures it ordered on October 22, 2007  for two other former prime ministers who belonged to the main political party backing then president Pervez Musharraf.

"This discriminatory treatment is profoundly troubling given the devastating attempt on her life only three days earlier and the specific threats against her which were being tracked" by Pakistani intelligence.

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 have 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 panel said the Pakistani investigation "lacked direction, was ineffective and suffered from a lack of commitment to identify and bring all of the perpetrators to justice."

It added it was up to Pakistani authorities to carry out a "serious, credible criminal investigation that determines who conceived, ordered and executed this heinous crime... and brings those responsible to justice."

The Munoz-led panel was tasked with establishing the facts and circumstances of the slaying and was not empowered to identify culprits.

It conducted more than 250 interviews, meeting with Pakistani officials and private citizens, foreign citizens with knowledge of the events and members of Britain's Scotland Yard that probed some aspects of the killing.

Munoz earlier Thursday turned over the report to UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

Pakistan's UN Ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon, who was to have addressed the press after receiving a copy of the report, canceled the news conference and was to take the report back to Islamabad.

In its conclusion, the panel -- also including Indonesian ex-attorney general Marzuki Darusman and Peter Fitzgerald, an Irish former police official -- enjoined Pakistani authorities to ensure that "the further investigation into the assassination of Ms Bhutto is fully empowered and resourced and is conducted expeditiously and comprehensively, at all levels, without hindrance."

It unwrapped the long-awaited, sensitive report after complying with Islamabad's request for a two-week delay.

Pakistan said last week it had asked that the release, initially scheduled for March 30, be delayed so that input from Afghanistan, the United States and Saudi Arabia could be included.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said he had asked the panel to include input from former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Saudi Arabia in its report.

He did not elaborate further on what information he wanted to be included.

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