The Marshall Islands confirmed Thursday it has withdrawn the nomination of a former Lebanese army general who was a suspect in a deadly political bombing as their ambassador to UNESCO.
Officials in the Pacific nation said the nomination of Jamil El Sayed, Lebanon's former security services director, had been formally rescinded and they were trying to understand how it was made in the first place.
"We are putting out this information to assure people that we are being open and frank about what we know," Tony de Brum, the acting president while Christopher Loeak is overseas, told AFP.
De Brum said he anticipated "repercussions" over the nomination to the UN's Paris-based cultural arm, but did not specify what they might be.
El Sayed spent four years in prison on suspicion of involvement in the 2005 murder of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri. He denies any involvement and claims to have been subjected to arbitrary detention.
French daily Le Figaro, which reported the nomination this week, said the appointment would have given El Sayed diplomatic immunity, allowing him to avoid potential prosecution by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, an international UN-backed criminal tribunal looking into Hariri's murder.
The former premier was killed in a Beirut bomb attack which also claimed the lives of 22 others and left 226 people injured.
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The attack was initially blamed on Lebanese officers suspected of being close to Syria, but the Special Tribunal has since indicted four members of Hezbollah and begun to try them in their absence.
De Brum said it appeared that initial contact for El Sayed's nomination was made to Marshall Islands leaders during a visit they made to Palau, in the Pacific, at the end of September last year.
He said a follow-up visit to the Marshalls capital Majuro by a representative of El Sayed in December resulted in the nomination letter being signed.
Officials in Majuro said the nomination did not follow the usual procedure and government offices such as the attorney-general, cabinet and ministry of finance had no documentation or knowledge of it.
Government representatives initially expressed surprise when questioned about the nomination on Wednesday and immediately sent a letter to UNESCO cancelling it.
Foreign Minister Phillip Muller did not respond to a request for comment on how El Sayed came to be nominated by the nation of low-lying Pacific atolls, which are home to about 70,000 people.