A small aircraft that has been in Cyprus since 2019 and is currently parked at Paphos airport is being guarded until UN experts arrive to inspect a possible connection with arms smuggling to Libya, it emerged on Tuesday.
Authorities were alerted of the aircraft’s possible links with illegal activities after a report by the Panel of Experts on Libya submitted to the UN Security Council earlier this year.
Though the aircraft has been in Cyprus for around two years, its suspected connection with arms smuggling to Libya was discovered only recently, through the report.
The aircraft, in a hangar at Paphos airport, is being guarded by the police after authorities were alerted a few weeks ago of its suspected involvement in such activities. A team of UN experts are expected to arrive on the island in November to inspect the plane.
Chief Operations Officer at Civil Aviation Haris Antoniades told state broadcaster CyBC that in summer 2019 the plane, that was en route from Jordan to Libya, asked to land at Larnaca airport instead due to the situation in its destination. It was to return to Jordan but ended up at Paphos airport, where it has been parked at a hanger with a private foreign company paying the fees.
The report said the plane in question was registered by the Civil Aviation Directorate of Serbia in August 2018, while it was expelled by Jordanian authorities in July 2019.
Antoniades said after Cypriot authorities were alerted a few weeks ago they made sure the plane was fully immobilised so that no one could access it or try to fly it. He told Alpha TV that authorities in Cyprus were sent a wrong registration number, so it could not be located.
He said the aircraft, US-made Thrush, are for agricultural use but can be modified to be used for military purposes.
Antoniades also said it is part of the fleet of a paramilitary company that offers services to various states, and this is what the UN want to see, whether it has been modified and if it is linked with violation of the Libyan arms embargo.
According to the report, the plane in question is believed to be linked with Project Opus, a private military intervention designed to provide armed groups affiliated with Khalifa Haftar with armed assault rotary-wing aviation, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, maritime interdiction, cyber, unmanned armed vehicles, and intelligence fusion and targeting capabilities.