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CYPRUS has intercepted a vessel carrying military equipment thought to be bound for Sudan, under an arms embargo by the United Nations and the EU.

Authorities said yesterday the Antigua and Barbuda flagged cargo vessel had been prevented from leaving Cypriot waters since June 11, when it anchored off Limassol requesting refuelling.

"There is material (on board) which is considered prohibited from leaving Cyprus right now," Commerce Minister Antonis Paschalides told state radio. "When we speak of prohibited material it means explosives or military material." Police said the vessel was sailing to Sudan and then Singapore.

An official from Sudan's foreign ministry yesterday said he had no information on the vessel.

The daily Phileleftheros, which broke the story, said the vessel was transporting tanks and explosives, and was blocked after a tipoff from the United States. A spokesman at the US embassy in Nicosia said Washington was not involved.

Police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos denied there was a tipoff from the US. He said police were checking the authenticity of the documents.

“It is equipment whose legality needs to be certified,” Katsounotos said. “Until then, there is an order banning the departure of the vessel.”

Asked about the cargo, Paschalides said: "I cannot specify right now what material it is, whether it is tanks, not tanks or other things, but there is definitely military material which comes under export control."

Paschalides said the vessel's papers suggested it sailed from Norway and had passed through the German port of Hamburg and Spain. Police said they were checking the authenticity of the documents.

A security source said authorities were investigating whether the cargo contravened a UN arms embargo on all armed groups operating in Sudan's Darfur region, the site of a seven-year conflict pitting government troops and allied militias against rebel fighters.

The US envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, in March accused Sudan of cavalier violations of the UN's Darfur embargo.

Analysts last year also said Sudan's northern and southern armies were building up arms as tensions mounted over a faltering 2005 north-south peace deal. Northern and southern authorities denied the reports.

In September 2008, Somali pirates captured a Ukrainian ship loaded with a cargo of Soviet-era T-72 tanks plus other weapons. The pirates and foreign diplomats said there was evidence the arms were bound for south Sudan. South Sudan's government dismissed the report.

The EU, of which Cyprus is a member, also has a blanket ban on arms shipments to Sudan.

By Michele Kambas. Cyprusmail, published on June 23, 2010
|||Cyprus probes weapons on Sudan-bound ship
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