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Cypriot police said on Friday that the Turkish coastguard fired warning shots at one of their ships patrolling undocumented migrants off the island’s north coast, as tensions mount before a visit of the Turkish president to the north of the archipelago.
The Cypriot government said it was preparing a protest at the United Nations against the incident, which it said was the first of its kind.
But a Turkish diplomatic source denied that the Turkish or Turkish Cypriot coast guard fired at a Greek Cypriot ship.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to visit the north of the island next week to mark the anniversary of the 1974 Turkish invasion, a visit Greek Cypriots see as inflammatory with reunification talks in limbo.
The Cypriot police vessel spotted the Turkish Coast Guard approximately 11 nautical miles from the small fishing port of Kato Pyrgos, just west of the UN-guarded armistice line separating government-controlled territory from the north, the Cypriot News Agency reported.
Cypriot police spokesman Christos Andreou told CNA the coast guard was in Cypriot territorial waters at 03:30 (0030 GMT) when the incident occurred.
He said the boat was on a regular patrol to check on irregular migrants, as the area is a disembarkation point for migrants from Turkey.
– ‘Aggressive behaviour’ –
“The three members of the crew of the patrol vessel, seeing the intentions of the Turkish coast guard, tried to avoid any incident and made their way to the fishing shelter of Kato Pyrgos,” he said.
âAt a distance of four nautical miles from the shelter, the maritime police boat received warning shots from the Turkish Coast Guard.
“Then, being a short distance from the coast, the Turkish coast guard left for the occupied territories” (of northern Cyprus), he said.
Cypriot government spokesman Marios Pelekanos told state television the government was preparing a protest at the UN, although the global body’s peacekeeping mandate on the island did not extend. not extend off.
He said the patrol vessel was acting within its rights in the territorial waters of Cyprus, and the incident highlighted Turkey’s recent “aggressive behavior” towards the island.
“There has been no incident of this nature before,” Pelekanos said.
The Turkish diplomatic source denied that a coastguard vessel opened fire.
“A Turkish ship or a ship from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus did not shoot at a Greek Cypriot ship. This is not true,” the source told AFP.
Tensions are high ahead of Erdogan’s visit to the island, when he makes what Greek Cypriots see as a provocative visit to the abandoned resort town of Varosha on Tuesday, which has been emptied of its Greek Cypriot residents by the Turkish invasion.
The UN-backed talks on reuniting the island as a bicommunal federation collapsed in 2017 and efforts to revive them reached a new, harder Ankara line demanding a two-state solution.
– ‘Hard situation’ –
Cypriot police have stepped up their land and sea patrols since the government declared a “state of emergency” in May, following an influx of Syrian migrants that flooded its reception centers.
Nicosia says most migrants enter government-controlled areas illegally, via the UN-patrolled buffer zone from the north.
Cyprus, the easternmost member state of the European Union, has recorded the highest proportion of asylum applications per capita for four consecutive years.
Nicosia has asked the EU to help stop the flow of irregular migrants from Turkey before they reach Cyprus, which amounts to a deal for Greece reached in 2016.
“Despite the enormous efforts made by the Cypriot authorities to deal with disproportionate migratory pressures, we are still in an extremely difficult situation,” Interior Minister Nicos Nouris told reporters in June.
He said the division of the island by a 180-kilometer (112-mile) ceasefire line “creates unique conditions for the development of irregular migration.”
âUnfortunately, in the first months of 2021, the increase in irregular arrivals, especially of Syrian nationals, whether by sea or land via the Green Line, indicates an alarming trend,â he said.
“The continuation of the large migratory flows from Turkey is the main challenge for Cyprus.”
Giannis Ioannou, founder of the Cyprus Geopolitics think tank, said the incident reflected “a Turkish approach aimed at creating a new de facto situation in order to further undermine the Republic of Cyprus”.
“We have to see if this poses a hybrid threat to migration, since Kato Pyrgos is a destination for boats approaching Cyprus from Lebanon and Syria,” said Ioannou.
Â© 2021 AFP