Cyprus would like to function as a regional hub to coordinate responses of neighbouring countries to fires, President Nicos Anastasiades has said.
In an interview with Politis following the devastating fire in the north during the week that destroyed thousands of acres of land, the president said phenomena such as fires, earthquakes and other disasters can and must be dealt with collectively and in cooperation with the European Union.
Cyprus was already cooperating in this respect with Greece, Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Palestine, he said.
“There is, of course, a problem. Turkey’s position on insisting on non-recognition of the Republic of Cyprus does not allow for stable coordination, even in cases where joint action is required within Cyprus,” he added.
Firefighters from the Republic did take part in efforts to bring the blaze in the north under control. On Friday when the fire reignited and they were still on standby, Turkish Cypriot authorities told them they would not be needed. Heavy rains overnight on Friday had helped finally extinguish the blaze.
Anastasiades said that it was now clear that climate change was exacerbating the problem of forest fires.
“Yesterday was Pentadaktylos. Tomorrow may be the Troodos or the forest around Jerusalem, the forests in Jabal Azlun, Jordan, a district of Cairo, the forests of Karamania in Turkey or the butterfly forest in Rhodes,” he said.
Referring to the fire in the north, the president said the government had offered help “from the first moment” and sent two planes.
“We have always done this [offered], because Cyprus is the homeland of us all. In the past, before we ran to help, we were asked to remove the insignia of the Republic of Cyprus from our planes, which of course was unacceptable,” he said.
“This time, no such thing was asked. In addition, we requested assistance from Israel, which responded immediately and also sent two aircraft. In fact, the President of Israel, Mr. Herzog, called me while I was at the EU summit to see if we needed anything more. I thanked him warmly,” he added.
On Friday night, a statement from the ‘TRNC’ presidency issued a statement on the bi-communal cooperation for the joint response.
“When it became clear that the fire in the Kantara area was flaring up under the influence of the wind and that the existing ground and air firefighting resources sent by Turkey would not be sufficient to extinguish a fire of this scale due to the large forest fire in Marmaris, the ‘foreign ministry’ initially requested assistance from the British Sovereign Base Area command it said.
In response to this request, two helicopters from the British Sovereign Base Area participated in the firefighting efforts.
When it was established that the support from the bases would not be enough, the Turkish Cypriot side requested assistance from the Republic of Cyprus through the UN.
“As part of this initiative, the president’s special representative discussed the issue with the UN Chief of Mission in Cyprus, Colin Stewart, and the Greek Cypriot side and requested the support of firefighting aircraft and helicopters,” it said.
“The Greek Cypriot side responded to our request and provided support (initially) with two firefighting aircraft and then a firefighting helicopter.
The statement said Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar called to personally thank Anastasiades but could not contact him as he was in Brussels at the EU summit.
The statement then referred to the request for assistance made to Israel, which it says was secured through the UN and the British High Commission, and went on to thank Israel.
“It is our wish that cooperation with this urgent need for support provided by the Greek Cypriot side regarding the protection of our natural heritage be mutual and not exploited for political purposes,” it concluded.