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Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
EU still undecided on Palestinian exiles
Palestinian militants at their hotel in Cyprus
It is not yet known where the men will be sent
The European Union is having further talks over the legal status of 13 Palestinian militants deported to Cyprus following the end of the stand-off at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

During their session on Wednesday, EU ambassadors failed to iron out their differences, but a spokeswoman told BBC News Online that this was just the first stage in a difficult process.

The dangers posed to their safety increases the longer they stay here

Cypriot security official
"This is a very complicated matter, there are many things which have to be discussed before a decision can be made on the legal status and the ambassadors will reconvene tomorrow to continue their discussions," the spokeswoman said.

According to sources close to the negotiations, the main sticking point is over how much freedom of movement the Palestinians are to be allowed once settled within the EU.

Possible destinations

On Monday, EU foreign ministers met to try to decide the fate of the 13, but they could not agree where the men were to be sent.

Exiling all of them to the same destination is reported to have been ruled out for security reasons.

A Cypriot police officer at the Flamingo Hotel
Security at the hotel has been beefed up
Six EU countries have expressed their willingness to take in the militants - regarded by Israel as "senior terrorists" - Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

But according to one diplomat, they want assistance from other members of the EU.

In a document prepared for the ambassador's talks, Italy suggested that the exiles be granted temporary residency in the six countries - but not the right to asylum - Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said on Wednesday.

Security fears

Under the proposal the militants would be regarded as free men, but would remain under escort for their own protection, said Mr Berlusconi, who is attending a Nato meeting in Iceland.

As the negotiations continue, a security official in Cyprus has warned that the Palestinians are at risk, the AFP news agency reported.

Beach near the Flamingo Hotel
The men have been asked not to leave the hotel

"The dangers posed to their safety increases the longer they stay here because of the island's proximity to the Middle East," the security source told AFP.

The militants are confined to the Flamingo hotel in the coastal resort of Larnaca.

The Greek Cypriot daily Phileleftheros reported that security arrangements at the hotel have been reviewed amid fears that Israel may reverse its decision and demand the return of the 13 men.

See also:

13 May 02 | Middle East
EU stalls on Bethlehem militants
13 May 02 | Middle East
Palestinians land on friendly ground
10 May 02 | Middle East
No winners from siege deal
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