Greek Cypriots accept Turkish help to fight forest fire
AFP photoThe Greek Cypriot administration has accepted an offer of assistance from Turkey to help fight a wildfire raging for the last three days in the island’s Troodos Mountains.
A statement from the Greek Cypriot administration on the evening of June 21 confirmed that the Turkish Forestry Ministry, in coordination with Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı, offered two extinguisher helicopters and a firefighting airplane.
The offer was accepted by Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, state-run Anadolu Agency reported, adding that Anastasiades accepted the offer on grounds that the Turkish aircrafts were “a part of the firefighting force from Israel, Greece, U.K., France, Italy and the European Union which have come for help.”
Though some 20 firefighting aircrafts from foreign countries had also joined in efforts to extinguish the fire, reportedly the fire was not yet under control.
The blaze on the Mediterranean island began on June 19, just one day after firefighters managed to extinguish another huge fire at Argaka on the island’s northwest coast.
Police said they arrested two people suspected of starting the earlier fire. They said a 12-year-old boy was suspected of starting the Evrychou blaze while playing with a lighter.
Turkish Forest and Waterworks Minister Veysel Eroğlu said earlier on June 21 that Turkey was keeping two firefighting helicopters and one airplane ready in case Greek Cyprus accepted their offer to help.
Anastasiades said Akıncı had conveyed Turkey’s offer of help, as Ankara has no direct lines of communication with the Greek Cypriot government.
Akıncı’s presidential spokesperson, Barış Burcu, said June 20 that Akıncı had called Anastasiades on June 19 and offered to supply Greek Cyprus with aircrafts to help put the fire out, according to a statement issued on the presidential office’s website on June 20. Burcu said Anastasiades thanked Akıncı and said he would reconsider the offer if attempts to put the fire out where inadequate.
The island has been divided since 1974 when Turkey intervened in the north following a coup attempt to unite the island with Greece.
Peace talks were relaunched in May 2015 between Akıncı and Anastasiades and both of the leaders have expressed their will and determination that a deal was possible within 2016.
The United Nations’ Good Offices announced on June 21 that Anastasiades had requested to postpone the leaders’ meeting between him and Akıncı scheduled to take place on the same day in Nicosia due to the fires, to which Akıncı had “expressed his full understanding and support.”
In a separate statement issued on June 21 by his office, Akıncı expressed his condolences for the loss of two firefighters who died while trying to tackle the ongoing forest fires.
The two firefighters were killed when their vehicle slid down a 20-meter gully on June 20. A third firefighter remains in critical condition with head injuries suffered in a separate accident on June 19 when his truck overturned.
'Talks for solution should not be open-ended'
During a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu said on June 22 that he believed talks for a solution on the island should not be “open-ended.”
“We have been negotiating for 50 years but we are facing a Greek Cypriot side that intends to continue negotiations for another 500 years,” Ertuğruloğlu said.
He said the Greek Cypriots must understand that Cyprus is not a “Hellene island” and abandon their “national line of trying to subdue Turkish Cypriots.”
“When they [the Greek Cypriot administration] do this then it is of course possible that we could reach a deal by the end of this year,” he said, while adding that the latest developments from the Greek Cypriot side “have not shown such a will.”
The fire is one of Greek Cyprus’ largest forest fires ever, having scorched around 15 square kilometers of trees and countryside. Almost 500 firefighters, soldiers and volunteers have been trying to contain it amid a heat wave with temperatures surging to over 40 degrees Celsius.
Andreas Christou, a spokesman for Greek Cyprus’ forestry department, told The Associated Press that crews were focusing firefighting efforts on a front that was moving toward the villages of Kannavia and Agia Eirini, some 40 kilometers southwest of the capital of Nicosia.
A Cypriot government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because he wasn’t allowed to publicly discuss the matter, confirmed that Cyprus had also asked Russia for assistance.