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Grave robbers target Cyprus Orthodox bishops' tombs

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Grave robbers in Cyprus have attacked the tombs of three archbishops, police on the island said Sunday, in a case which bore some similarity to one targeting a former president’s remains last December.

Under cover of darkness and only metres from a police station, the skeletal remains of two archbishops were removed and the tomb of a third prelate was opened.

The graveyard in central Nicosia where the incident occurred is a burial ground for several senior clerics of Cyprus’s Orthodox Church, an ancient institution tracing its lineage back to some of the earliest followers of Jesus.

“The ossuaries are missing from the tombs of Archbishop Sophronis III and of Kyrillos II,” a police spokesman said.

The tomb of a third archbishop, Kyrillos III, was disturbed but the ossuary, a receptacle for human remains, was not removed, he said. The clerics led the church in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Most Greek Cypriots belong to the Church of Cyprus, which is an independent branch of the Eastern Orthodox Communion.

Last December thieves snatched the remains of former President Tassos Papadopoulos and hid them in another cemetery until its discovery earlier this month. Two people, who police say were holding the corpse for ransom, are in custody.

Reporting by Michele Kambas, editing by Matthew Jones