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Cyprus News Agency: News in English, 11-08-29

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From: The Cyprus News Agency at <>




    Public hearings into the circumstances that have led to last months massive explosion of munitions, at a naval base, which killed 13 persons and destroyed the islands main power station, started here Monday.

    Polys Polyviou, who was appointed in July by the Cabinet to investigate the incident as head of a commission of inquiry, will also look into possible political responsibilities. He said the hearings will not be televised.

    He said that he has been appointed to investigate the circumstances as they happened, all relevant developments, responsibility or the responsibilities for the tragic events of the explosion at Mari and their repercussions.

    Polyviou further said that he will make recommendations and deal with any other aspect that he deems necessary. Once the public hearings conclude, he will prepare a report which will be submitted to the Cabinet.

    Thirteen people were killed by the huge blast, following a massive explosion at the Naval Base Evangelos Florakis. The blast occurred in containers, full of munitions, which Cyprus had confiscated from Monchegorsk, a vessel sailing from Iran to Syria in 2009.

    The explosion caused extensive damage to nearby Vassiliko power plant, leading to power shortages all over Cyprus. Communities in close proximity where also hit, while Mari village suffered most of the damage.

    During todays hearing, five people were called to testify and answer questions before the commission, including Nikos Emiliou, permanent secretary at the Foreign Ministry, who is currently suspended from his duties as the commission is investigating the case.

    Emiliou told Polyviou that he was acting on the instructions of his superiors regarding the contents of letters by the Foreign Ministry in relation to the confiscated containers and the way the matter was handled.

    Polyviou referred to the letters of the Ministry to the UN Sanctions Committee of February 3, 2009, that Cyprus could not store the containers and that the UN should take over, but in a letter dated 12 February, 2009, Cyprus Permanent Representative to the UN told the Sanctions Committee that problems had been overcome and Cyprus could store the containers.

    Polyviou asked Emiliou what had occurred between those dates to make Cyprus change its mind and he replied that at a meeting at the Presidential Palace a decision was taken to keep the containers in Cyprus. He said he acted in accordance with the instructions he had been given.

    Polyviou pointed out letters by the Ministry of Defence which stressed the dangers of keeping the containers in an open space. Emiliou replied that following instructions from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, he had prepared a letter to the Ministry of Defence which said that the political reasons relating to the handling of the issue had not changed and therefore a change in the handling of the matter was not justified.

    During the hearing, Polyviou referred to the request by the Group of Experts of the UN Sanctions Committee to visit Cyprus in March 2011 and inspect the confiscated cargo, and the reply from the Foreign Affairs Ministry was that the request was accepted but the visit should take place at a later stage to allow adequate preparation and coordination.

    Emiliou said he had no direct knowledge of the issue, nor any involvement. He added that he was aware of letters exchanged between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Cyprus at the UN and the Experts Group. I had knowledge of the letters. I could not however take any decision since the Minister of Foreign Affairs was handling the issue, he added. He further said that he dedicated 60-70% of his time to the negotiations on the Cyprus issue.

    Answering questions, Prosecutor of the Republic, Mary Ann Stavrinidou said former Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou and former Defence Minister Costas Papacostas, during a meeting at the Defence Ministry on 7th February 2011 on the handling of the containers confiscated, insisted the issue was political, despite remarks by National Guard officials who pointed out that there was a danger of the containers exploding.

    Stavrinidou was asked to prepare a document on the legal aspects of the confiscated containers and to hand it to the Attorney-General, which she did. She noted that according to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence the issue was political while the Customs Department and the Law Office of the Republic had pointed out that the containers confiscated were now in the possession of the Republic of Cyprus, according to the provisions of the customs code on confiscated items.

    In addition she said that the meeting ended with instructions from both Ministers to examine and ascertain the value of the gunpowder in the containers and then the issue would be further handled by the Ministry of foreign affairs.

    According to Panagiotis Evgeniou of the Ministry of Commerce, the Minister of Defence had noted in a letter the dangers of the contents of the containers and the possibility of an explosion due to the weather and storage conditions.

    Antonis Ioannou, director of the Vasilikos Power Plant, told the hearing that if he was aware of the possibility of the containers exploding, he would have protected somehow the generators and the Vasiliko power plant.

    Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Markos Kyprianou will be called to answer questions on Tuesday while President of the Republic Demetris Christofias will appear before the Commission of inquiry on 5th September. Forrmer Defence Minister Papacostas will appear before the Commission on 14th September.

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