* Government facing mounting criticism over explosion
* 12 killed, island's largest power facility destroyed
* Says suggestion explosives went to peacekeepers rejected
By Michele Kambas
NICOSIA, July 12 (Reuters) - Cyprus had attempted several
times to offload a dangerous cargo of confiscated Iranian
munitions that blew up on Monday killing 12, but was rebuffed by
the United Nations, a senior official said on Tuesday.
Attempting to fend off mounting criticism over Cyprus's
worst peace-time disaster, authorities said they had tried in
vain to get rid of the 98 containers of munitions they
confiscated in 2009 from a ship sailing from Iran to Syria.
The entire cargo exploded on Monday, destroying the island's
largest power facility and prompting the resignation of the
defence minister and army chief.
"Our government's position in this difficult diplomatic
issue was that the material not be held in Cyprus," said
Stefanos Stefanou, the government spokesman.
He said, however, Cyprus had no choice but take the arms
cargo in after its suggestions it went to the U.N. peacekeeping
force in Lebanon was rejected, and it received no answer from
the Security Council that the material be sent to Germany or
The economic impact of the disaster has yet to be assessed.
Just a mangled shell remained of the 700 million euro power
facility of Vassiliko on Tuesday, a station which provided
Cyprus with 53 percent of its energy. The crisis triggered
rolling power and water cuts.
Newspapers accused authorities of criminal negligence,
pointing a finger of blame directly at Demetris Christofias, the
communist president who was swept to power in 2008.
"(It was) a disaster that would have been avoided if our
country was run by a less incompetent president," the liberal
English language Cyprus Mail daily said in a front-page
The weapons-grade material confiscated was in violation of
U.N. sanctions on Iran, and therefore the United Nations had to
be involved in consultations about its fate, Stefanou said.
Cyprus had revisited the matter "from time to time" with the
United Nations without success, he added.
Left stacked in scorching heat at a military base, one of
the containers containing gunpowder had apparently expanded,
letting off a "hissing noise" in the days preceding the blast,
military sources said.
Warnings from officers to their seniors that it was a
disaster about to happen went unheeded, relatives of the victims
However, it had never been discussed in cabinet meetings,
Stefanou said. "The presidency was not aware of this," he said.
Two of the victims, twin 19 year old conscripts, had been
assigned to douse the stack regularly with water to keep
temperatures down, their family said.
"Which idiot decided to place 98 containers of explosives in
a compound ... directly opposite the largest energy facility the
Cyprus Republic now has?" the daily Politis asked, splashing the
word "Criminals" on its front page.
"Whether the president was in oblivion, or is just scared
of the responsibility, its difficult for him to convince us he
can run this country."
(Editing by Alison Williams)
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