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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cyprus consults with West on fate of Iran ship carrying weapons

NICOSIA — The Republic of Cyprus is in discussions with Western powers over the fate of an Iranian-owned weapons ship deemed as having violated United Nations sanctions.   

Officials said Nicosia has been holding the Iranian-owned ship, which carried a Cypriot flag, for nearly two weeks, Middle East Newsline reported. The Cypriot-flagged Monchegorsk, headed for Syria, has been inspected twice since arriving in Limassol on Jan. 29.

"We will turn to friends about what to do with the ship," Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou said.

  • U.S. Navy stopped Iran ship carrying weapons and headed to Gaza — January 23
  • Diplomats said Cypriot authorities found artillery, missiles, mortars and rockets hidden in containers on Monchegorsk. They said this marked a violation of a UN ban on weapons exports to Iran, which sent the ship.

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    "We think the weapons were meant for Hizbullah and Hamas," a diplomat said. In February, the diplomats said, the UN Security Council sanctions committee deemed the Iranian weapons ship a violation of the international embargo on Teheran. They said the UN committee advised Nicosia to acquire help from other states for the disposal of the Iranian weapons.

    "My understanding is that Cypriot authorities are looking into what the situation is, what is the specifications on these weapons that are there," British minister for Europe Caroline Flint, who met Kyprianou, said. "And I think when we have a better report of that, the UK and I'm sure other countries will want to help in whatever way we can to make sure that they are disposed of effectively."

    In January 2009, Monchegorsk was intercepted and searched by the U.S. Navy's USS San Antonio in the Red Sea. The cargo ship was allowed to continue to Egypt's Port Said, but was again stopped in the Mediterranean. On Feb. 11, Iran denied that Monchegorsk was transporting weapons.

    For his part, Kyprianou said Nicosia has yet to complete its search of all of the containers on the boat. He said the ship would not be returned to Iran, but could be confiscated in cooperation with Western allies.

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