Hearings with testimonies of key officials about the incident in Mari continue
Public hearings in relation to the deadly blast at the naval base “Evaggelos Florakis” in Mari continued yesterday with key officials testifying before the single-member commission of inquiry.
Mr. Kyprianou told the commission that the blast resulted from the flawed storage conditions of the containers and not from the decision to keep and store the explosives in Cyprus, adding that the Foreign Ministry does not bear any responsibility for the fact that the National Guard was not in a position to securely store the ammunition. He also reiterated that the political decision to keep the load in Cyprus was taken by the President of the Republic.
The ex Foreign Minister also mentioned that there was no intention on the part of the Foreign Ministry to cancel a visit by the Group of Experts of the UN Sanctions Committee against Iran to Cyprus, or to withhold information requested by the Coordinator of the Group in March of this year.
He noted, moreover,that those responsible for storing the ammunition had never submitted a request to the Foreign Ministry for assistance, adding that there were, indeed, political reasons for keeping the containers in Cyprus without that meaning, however, that those directly responsible couldn’t have taken additional storage and safety measures. “A diplomat cannot tell military officers how to store ammunition”, Mr. Kyprianou stated.
Asked to comment on a meeting scheduled by himself at the Ministry of Defence in February 2011, Mr. Kyprianou said that the aim of this meeting was to consider other options in handling the issue, since, according to his statement, the political climate with Syria had started to change, adding that that he did not remember to have discussed the issue of the shift in Cyprus-Syria relations with the President of the Republic.
Regarding the issue of the UN Group of Experts' visit to Cyprus, Mr. Kyprianou told the committee that the Ministry “had no reasons to cancel the inspection”, adding that “we had done what our duty required of us and we had nothing to fear nor to hide”.'
Concluding his testimony, the ex Foreign Minister read a final statement highlighting that on the issue of retaining the load in Cyprus, the Ministry was merely implementing the policy directed by the President of the Republic and that the responsibility for the deadly blast lies with those responsible for its storage.
The Director of the State General Laboratory, Popi Kanari, testified that the storage conditions of the containers are directly linked to the cause of the deadly blast. Mrs. Kanari told the committee that her department was in a position to analyze samples of the ammunition, however a decision was taken to send samples in Greece.
She added that when the load of munitions self-ignited on July 4, the only option was to evacuate the naval base and eventually the area, since it was too late to do anything else.
Mrs. Kanari stressed that no request for assistance had been submitted to her department and added that her involvement "started on July 11, when I called the Police to offer our assistance, in order to probe into the munitions and see how we could predict the hazards for the area, the people and the environment."
She also said that the State General Laboratory could have analyzed the content of the containers, before a decision was taken to store the load in Cyprus, making thus a recommendation on safe storage conditions, in cooperation with the bomb squad.
Ex Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, Petros Kareklas, stated, in his testimony, that there are serious problems with the way the General Staff of the National Guard functions, adding that he has tried many times to clarify the distinction of responsibilities.
In this context, Kareklas did not rule out that conditions which led to the blast may have been affected by problems the National Guard hierarchy faces.
Current Defence Ministry Permanent Secretary Christos Malikides said that a report which was prepared during a meeting at the Defence Ministry, on July 5, 2011, following the self-ignition that occurred in some of the containers, was intentionally distorted.
He further noted that only military personnel at the Ministry was aware of concerns relating to the safety of the load and possible threats emanating from its storage.