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Cyprus unloads suspect cargo from Iran

(Adds Cyprus defence minister para 3-4)

NICOSIA, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Cyprus unloaded a cargo of banned weapons-related material on Friday from a ship from Iran found to be in violation of U.N. arms sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

The cargo will be stored in Cyprus, a government statement said. It was not immediately clear how long the cargo would remain on the island.

Diplomatic sources said the Monchegorsk was carrying conventional weapons, but Cypriot officials said the cargo was material which could be used for the manufacture of weapons.

"There are no weapons on board, but there is material which could be used for the manufacture of ammunitions," Cypriot Defence Minister Costas Papacostas told reporters.

"It (the cargo) has been confiscated by the Cyprus Republic," he said.

The ship has been detained off Cyprus, its flag-state, since Jan. 29 after it was boarded by U.S. naval personnel in the Red Sea. U.S. military authorities said the ship was travelling to Syria from Iran and had been carrying arms.

Iran has denied the ship was carrying weapons.

Iran is under U.N. and U.S. sanctions over its nuclear programme, which Western powers suspect is aimed at making bombs but which Tehran says is for generating electricity.

Israeli media had reported the vessel was suspected of carrying weapons to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in the Gaza Strip. (Reporting by Michele Kambas, editing by Richard Balmforth)

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