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France supports British role in Bhutto murder enquiry

PARIS, Jan 3 (KUNA) — France said on Thursday that it fully supported and “welcomed” the role of British police from Scotland Yard in the investigation into the murder of Pakistani opposition figure Benazir Bhutto.

The French Foreign Ministry said that a number of European countries had offered to help Pakistan in the enquiry and the government in Islamabad had accepted a British offer of assistance.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner visited Pakistan on January 1-2 for previously unscheduled talks with senior leaders there, including President Pervez Musharraf and senior members of the opposition parties, including Bhuttos “Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).” Kouchner was mandated by the Slovenian Presidency of the European Union to speak in the name of the 27-member EU and to offer assistance in the enquiry into Bhuttos murder in late December.

Talks were held with the successors to Benazir Bhutto in the PPP, namely her husband Asif Ali Zardari, who co-presides the party with Bhuttos son.

On a more official level, Kouchner also met with Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro and Foreign Minister Inam Ul Haq and he also held talks with the head of the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan and special UN Rapporteur on Religious Freedom and Beliefs, Asma Jahangir.

Following the decision to suspend elections planned for Pakistan on January 8 because of the security risks, France said that the important issue now is that the elections take place in proper conditions.

Through his visit, Kouchner “wanted to pay a last tribute to Benazir Bhutto, an eminent Pakistani figure, and to bring the support of France to the unity, stability and democracy in this great country,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani said in a statement Thursday.

She noted that Kouchner had “reiterated our solidarity with Pakistan, the Pakistani people faced with the barbarity of terrorism” and the official said France also expressed “determination to fight this threat” alongside Pakistan.

She indicated that Kouchner also expressed his view on the importance of the forthcoming ballot now to be held on February 18 and he said this should take place in “conditions of transparency, correctness and security” which would “guarantee the credibility of the vote.” The French Minister also personally committed France to providing assistance to Pakistan in the Bhutto investigation, if requested to do so, but he excluded a UN or International Tribunal in this affair.

Pakistan has not asked for this, it was pointed out by diplomats here, and Kouchner said that the killing of Bhutto differed from other high-profile assassinations like that of Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005.
Kouchner, sources said here, indicated that the Bhutto killing concerned internal affairs in Pakistan, while the killing of Hariri had led to the suspicion a foreign power might be involved.