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Our View: Argaka mukhtar should not act as if he owns the beach

Photo from Phileleftheros during first confrontation on the beach

TWICE in a week, the community leader of Argaka village in Paphos, accompanied by his henchmen, tried to prevent conservationists, through bullying and intimidation, from placing aluminium cages above turtle nests to protect eggs and hatchlings from foxes. On both occasions, the conservationists/experts had to leave the area without completing their task, unable to put up with the threatening behaviour of the locals.

The beach in Argaka is part of the Polis Yialia special area of conservation, protected by the European Natura 2000 legislation because it is an important breeding site for the endangered Loggerhead and Green turtles. It was outrageous, under the circumstances, for the mukhtar, Spyros Pelopidas, to insist the conservationists should not have been on the beach because they did not have permission from the local authorities.

If environmental protection programmes were under the authority of local councils, there would be none. In fact, the beach would have been full of sunbeds, umbrellas and beach sports if it were not protected and was under the authority of Pelopidas and his council; turtles would have ceased using the beach for laying their eggs a long time ago. The biggest outrage is that the mukhtar feels he can act as if he owns the beach and treat the conservationists as trespassers.

This is because the police invariably side with the locals when they are in dispute with outsiders and especially foreigners. We have witnessed this type of policing on the other side of Cyprus, in the Paralimni area, where locals have often attacked activists against bird trapping, without the authorities doing anything.

After the latest incident in Argaka the conservationists went to the police to report the case and instead were told by officers to give their personal details because Pelopidas wanted to take legal action against them for filming and taking photographs of him while he was shouting at them! The conservationists had violated his right to privacy and the Paphos police would not allow this crime to go unpunished. The mukhtar, in contrast, was allowed to bully and intimidate people because locals are above the law.

This type of policing, which enforces the law only in the case of foreigners is an embarrassment for Cyprus and should be dealt with by the chief of police. He cannot allow officers to side with local bullies preventing conservationists from doing work that perfectly lawful and is part of a Council of Europe programme.

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