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‘Green Line Watch’ to combat smuggling

By George Psyllides

Authorities are planning to introduce a so-called Green Line Watch in a bid to stop the illegal crossing of agricultural products and smuggling in general across the buffer zone that divides the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.

Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said the programme would bolster police measures along the buffer zone.

“Protecting our life and property is not only the concern of the police and state authorities, but each one of us individually, local society, and local authorities,” Nicolaou said.

He said co-operation between law enforcement and local authorities was exceptionally important in achieving this protection.

Police will be assisted in this endeavour by farmers with land neighbouring the buffer zone as well as people who live and work in surrounding areas.

“Based on the neighbourhood watch model, the programme aims at sensitising each citizen who wishes to get involved,” the minister said.

Volunteers would be trained by the police, he said, expressing certainty that it would yield the same positive results as the neighbourhood watch scheme, introduced two years ago.

The programme entails mapping the dividing line and the crossings, drafting immediate response plans and training monitors.

The aim “is none other than prevent and stamp out crime, raise the sense of security, and resolve problems facing farmers and residents in the surrounding areas,” the minister said.

He warned that people should not take the law into their own hands, nor put their life at risk in a bid to prevent a crime.

Police chief Zaharias Chrysostomou said the basic objective was to effectively tackle illegal transport of agricultural products through the buffer zone, as well as other unlawful activities.

Chrysostomou said the main reason for the action was the transportation of agricultural products, which violated the Green Line Regulation.

Such acts affected agricultural production and farmers’ interests, as well as the economy as a whole, he said.

Another important aspect was the risk to public health, the chief said.

The Green Line Regulation, adopted in 2004, sets out the terms under which persons and goods can cross the dividing line.

Trade across the divide reached around €3.5m in 2014, compared with €3.4m the previous year, a rise of 3.1 per cent.

“Despite this slight increase, it remained at a low level,” the European Commission said, adding that it was concerned by the figures.

In 2014, plastic products were the most traded item, followed by fresh fish, building materials/articles of stone and raw scrap material.

New products such as prickly pears and ready made concrete were introduced but had a very limited impact on the trade. All the trade across the Line was intra-island and there was no export registered to other EU Member States or third countries.

Smuggling remained widespread however, according to the report “reflecting the geographical pattern of the Line”. It said control operations tackle seasonal issues in particular such as the transport of game/wild birds or fire crackers also via the eastern British base to the government-controlled areas.

In 2014, Cypriot authorities conducted 2,627 seizures, confiscating 140,029 cigarettes and 370,794 grammes of hand rolling tobacco.

The European Commission said this smuggling consisted of small quantities and was due to the price differentials and the higher tax in the Republic.

Other items seized include mainly goods violating intellectual property rights, as well as animal and dairy products.

There were no criminal cases filed in the district court for smuggling. For the majority of the reported cases, an administrative penalty is imposed.

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