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Ship with choppers for Syria leaves Russia port

Published: 13/07/2012 04:29:34 PM GMT
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MOSCOW, Jul 13, 2012 (AFP) - A Russian ship that tried to supply attack helicopters to the Syrian regime amid the bloodshed was reported Friday (more)

MOSCOW, Jul 13, 2012 (AFP) - A Russian ship that tried to supply attack helicopters to the Syrian regime amid the bloodshed was reported Friday to have left its port with the same controversial cargo aboard.

"The Mi-25 helicopters subject for return to Syria after their repair are currently aboard the Alaed, which is sailing from the port in Murmansk to another port in Russia," the Rosoboronexport state arms exporter said in a statement.

A source in the Murmansk port told the Interfax news agency the ship had left on Tuesday for the port of Baltiysk in Russia's Kaliningrad exclave east of Poland.

The website showed the ship's radar signal coming in off the Norwegian coast on its last reporting date Thursday.

The ship's signal was switched off on Friday and one report citing its owner Femco said the Alaed might in fact be planning to dock in Saint Petersburg toward the end of next week.

The announcement follows Russian official statements that they would to try again to deliver the weapons to President Bashar al-Assad's government, despite calls for Moscow to join an arms embargo against its last Middle East ally.

The Russian foreign ministry has confirmed that the Alaed was planning to supply three repaired attack helicopters and an air defence system to Syria when it was exposed by the US State Department last month.

The 9,000-tonne private cargo was forced to turn back when its British insurer ended up pulling cover.

Russia argues that it must return the helicopters to Syria under a binding commercial contract signed three years before the current bloody conflict between regime forces and the armed opposition began.

Some officials suggested the parts may be taken to Syria by air. More recent indications said Russia preferred to try the sea route a second time.

The Alaed's departure from its port comes as Russia sends a flotilla to the Mediterranean to conduct exercises that Moscow has said are not linked to the fighting tearing apart Syria since March 2011.

But Moscow remains bitterly opposed to any attempt to oust Assad from power and has threatened to veto a new Western-backed resolution that could impose economic sanctions on Damascus if it fails to quickly commit to peace.

The Rosoboronexport statement angrily dismissed Moscow reports saying the navy vessels now sailing for Syria's Russian-leased port at Tartus were carrying any military technology for Assad.

The agency called the reports "conjectures... that could do serious harm to Russia's military and technological cooperation with other nations."

But a Russian Baltic Fleet source said two of the destroyer escorts that left port on Thursday -- one called Yaroslav Mudry (Yaroslav the Wise) and the other Nestrashimy (The Intrepid) -- could provide protection for the Alaed as it sails.

"They could accompany the Alaed to its destination point -- in other words, to one of the ports in Syria. That same Tartus port, for example," the unnamed Russian navy official told Interfax.