Nicosia, Oct 3 (CNA) — The President of the Republic bears “grave personal responsibilities” concerning the tragic blast incident at the naval base “Evaggelos Florakis”, at Mari, and its repercussions, Commission of Inquiry Head Polys Polyviou said on Tuesday.
Following the incident, last July, the Cabinet appointed a single-member inquiry commission, headed by Polyviou, to investigate events which led to the deadly explosion and allocate political responsibilities.
Speaking to the press, following the publication of his report, in the presence of relatives of blast victims, Polyviou presented the conclusions of his report, saying that ex Foreign Minister Marcos Kyprianou and ex Defense Minister Costas Papacostas are also burdened with “very serious responsibilities, both institutional and personal ones.
He added that “the main responsibility, however, belongs to the President of the Republic, who is heading the state and the government”.
Polyviou also said that part of his report also deals with criminal and disciplinary responsibilities, but said that he wouldn’t announce names, out of respect for the criminal investigation.
He said however that there is no doubt that serious criminal offences have been committed , including homicide, adding that the Republic’s Attorney General would need to investigate the possibility of committing such offenses by those responsible, “sparing no one”.
Moreover, Polyviou dismissed charges against former Navy Chief and Base Commander, who died both during the blast, noting that their effort to keep away soldiers from the cargo site, while trying themselves to avert disaster until the last moment, along with few security personnel and firefighters, constitutes a display of “impulsive heroism”.
After presenting the events prior to the explosion, as noted in his report, Polyviou said that President Christofias was in overall command and had the governing power to determine the outcome concerning the handling of the incident. As he put it, “the President bears the greatest responsibility for the failure, negligence and carelessness, which was displayed, and has therefore the greatest responsibility for what happened”.
Moreover, Polyviou said that management of the containers, containing the confiscated explosives, belonged to the executive power, but added that “the executive power, which is headed by the President of the Republic, failed miserably to take the necessary measures while dealing with the matter, including the provisions concerning the safe storage of the cargo in Cyprus”.
He added that, given the importance of the issue and the increased risk of explosion, of which President Christofias was or should have been aware, taking measures to protect the interests of the state and its citizens was absolutely necessary.
This preventive action, he went on, should have been taken, regardless of foreign policy-related issues, that arise after the meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, on August 31, 2009.
Polyviou continued by saying that the matter should not have been left for more that two years, following discussions among committees and between representatives of various government departments, without any coordination or outcome.
It should have been obvious to the President that usual bureaucratic procedures should not have applied in this case, given the cargo’s risk, Polyviou added. He noted that the President had undertaken the management of the dangerous cargo, by retaining supreme control over it, both in real terms as well as in the eyes of all involved.
Furthermore, he said that the President was responsible for taking the major decisions on the matter, and his decisions and policies led to the cargo’s prolonged stay in Cyprus, under unacceptable storage conditions.
The President’s actions and decisions meet by no means the minimum level of diligence required, Polyviou went on, adding that the President “failed to provide for or take at least basic safety precautions to protect Cypriot citizens and especially soldiers and firemen”.
When the cargo arrived in Cyprus, Polyviou noted that all potentially involved parties should have taken notice of its content, something that finally never happened.
Concerning the containers’ storage location, the Head of the Inquiry Commission said that no sufficient explanation has been given for choosing the particular area deposit the load.
He added that the cargo had been dispensed in a site belonging to the National Guard, for more than two years, under completely and challengingly insecure conditions.
The fact that the cargo had been deposited in a storage location with inexcusable negligence and complete disregard, should have been known to the Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs, as well as to the President of the Republic, according to Polyviou.
He added that no concrete mechanisms or procedures have been in place, while the issue was not discussed in Cabinet. In those cases where dangers emanating from the cargo were predicted, Polyviou noted that vague and unsubstantiated political excuses prevailed, resulting to the continuation of the unacceptable conditions.
Concerning political balances with Syria, Polyviou said that he accepted the President’s assurance that he had no intention of returning the cargo to Damascus, he noted however that the President and the Ministers in charge were aware of the fact that containers were being stored in an unprotected area within a National Guard camp site.
Moreover, he said that they knew the issue was becoming more and more acute with the passage of time, saying that this finding constitutes by itself “res ipsa loquitur”, i.e. the matter speaks for itself.
This, he went on, entails “unrelenting institutional and personal responsibility”, both for the Ministers for Defense and Foreign Affairs, as well as for the President of the Republic.
Polyviou also referred to Cyprus’ refusal to accept assistance offered by other states, and added that the Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs were filibustering, “because of inactivity, negligence and irresponsible handling at the highest state and government level”.
“The government proved completely inadequate while handling a matter of high importance”, Polyviou went on, adding that when one of the containers exploded, a few days prior to the tragic blast, instead of taking immediate action, the response was again a display of “an unprecedented confusion, inaction and negligence”.
The Head of the inquiry commission said that instead of evacuating the naval base and the surrounding area and taking measures that would mitigate the danger, a complete chaos prevailed.
Polyviou also said that the response of the Fire Department was particularly inadequate, adding that it had not been briefed prior to July 6, 2011, a few days before the blast, and as a result did not take any measures to prevent the accident or to educate its staff on how to deal with such incidents.
He noted that naval base officers in charge were also never completely briefed on the content of the cargo or the dangers it was posing, adding that they did not have access to the containers but were only charged with its security. Therefore, he said, they were not in position to deal with any problems that might arise, like a blast incident.
Polyviou referred finally to the responsibilities of the political leadership, and especially of those of ex Foreign Minister Kyprianou, concerning the non arrival of the UN experts group that was responsible for examining the cargo.
He also identified responsibilities for not issuing a definite order for the cargo’s destruction, following the serious concerns that were aired during a meeting on February 2011.
Cyprus President rejects personal
responsibility over Mari blast
Nicosia, Oct 3 (CNA) — Cyprus President Demetris Christofias categorically rejected that he bears personal responsibility concerning the deadly blast that took place on July 11 at the naval base “Evaggelos Florakis”, at Mari, adding that he will not resign.
The President was addressing a group of refugees from Morphou, a Turkish-occupied town in the north western part of Cyprus, during the inauguration of their new “Morphou Sports Association” premises, in Limassol.
Speaking in the aftermath of the publication of a report, earlier today, by Head of the Inquiry Commission Polis Polyviou, concerning the allocation of responsibilities on the handling of the storage of a confiscated cargo, that led to the deadly blast killing 13 people, President Christofias noted that the report’s conclusion are not substantiated by the testimonies in front of the commission, adding that Polyviou had overstepped the terms of his mandate.
“The conclusions on behalf of Polyviou are not substantiated from the testimonies taken and the material presented in front of the inquiry commission” the President said.
He added that “to the contrary, many conclusions by Polyviou in his report – especially when it comes to the President’s involvement to the issue under scrutiny – seem manifestly and at first sight to lack the necessary documentation”.
The President went on by saying that “without doubt, one can safely argue that Polyviou has overstepped the terms of his mandate,” said the President.
Moreover, he said that he would await the report by the Police, which will allocate possible criminal responsibilities and will give a comprehensive picture of the incident, in order for the government to take a definite position.
During his speech at the new “Morphou Sports Association” premises, the President noted moreover that the Republic of Cyprus can not remain hostage to Turkey’s reluctant stance to cooperate for a Cyprus solution and suspend the exercise of its sovereign rights, Cyprus President Demetris Christofias said today.
He further noted that the government of Cyprus is working towards the aim of exploiting hydrocarbon reserves, according to international law provisions, while he added that Turkey has once more opted for the path of provocations and tension.
On the Cyprus issue, the President said that that the government is working in a tireless manner and without sparing any efforts in order to realize the vision of reuniting the island.
He added that the goal is to reach a pragmatic solution. based on UN resolutions, international and European Law. The solution, he added, provides for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, which the two Cyprus communities have agreed upon, during the High Level Agreements between the leaders of two communities, in 1977 and 1979.
The President called finally for unity to prevail in the domestic front, “regardless of political and ideological disagreements”, adding that this is a matter that concerns all political forces.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third.
Peace talks are currently underway to find a negotiated settlement that will reunite the country, under a federal roof.
Thirteen people were killed and dozens were injured when a massive explosion occurred at the naval base “Evangelos Florakis”, near Limassol, on the southern coast, in the early hours of July 11th. The blast badly damaged the island’s main power plant, at Vasiliko, resulting in regular power cuts.
The blast occurred in containers, full of munitions, which Cyprus had confiscated from ”Monchegorsk”, a vessel sailing from Iran to Syria in 2009. Nicosia was acting in accordance with UN sanctions against Teheran.
Following the incident, last July, the Cabinet had appointed a single-member inquiry commission, headed by Polyviou, to investigate events which led to the deadly explosion and allocate political responsibilities.
Turkey does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus. Following a decision by Nicosia to begin natural gas and oil exploration in its exclusive economic zone, Ankara has deployed warships in the Eastern Mediterranean and has signed an illegal agreement with the Turkish Cypriot regime in occupied Cyprus to delineate what it calls continental shelf.
Drilling has already begun and is being carried out by Houston-based “Noble Energy”, off Cyprus’ south-eastern coast.
The government of Cyprus has protested to the UN and the EU Turkey’s moves, saying it has a sovereign right to exploit its natural resources, pointing out that Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots will benefit from any benefits that may come from oil drilling.
Cyprus has signed an agreement to delineate the Exclusive Economic Zone with Egypt and Israel with a view to exploit any possible natural gas and oil reserves in its EEZ. A similar agreement has been signed with Lebanon but the Lebanese Parliament has not yet ratified it.