NICOSIA, Cyprus — Turkey’s Foreign Minister said June 22 his country won’t dispatch aircraft to help battle one of Cyprus’ worst forest fires despite making the offer to assist its tiny neighbor.
Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Cyprus of playing politics on a humanitarian issue after Cyprus insisted that any Turkish aircraft had to fall under Cypriot operational control.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades had accepted Turkey’s offer if help on June 21 but said the aircraft must be directed and coordinated by Cypriot government authorities alongside some 20 other aircraft from a number of assisting countries including Israel, Italy, France, Greece and Britain.
Cyprus, an island nation of just over a million people, was cleaved into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974. Only Turkey recognizes the north’s independence.
“They are trying to get Turkish planes and the helicopter to land on the Greek side,” Cavusoglu said. “This is not something we can accept. Politics should not be done on such a matter.”
Meanwhile, Cyprus’ Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said earlier June 22 that crews are beating back the huge fire that has scorched more than 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) of 150-year-old pine forest and claimed the lives of two firefighters.
Nicolaou said firefighting aircraft have managed to contain serious flare-ups.
Although the fire had moved in the direction of a pair of villages some 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of the capital, Nicosia, Nicolaou said there had been no evacuations ordered so far.
Cypriot government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said the two firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty have been declared heroes and that state funerals will be held for both while flags will fly at half-staff for three days.
The firefighters’ families will each receive 167,000 euros ($188,000) in compensation. The firefighters’ wives and each of their children will receive an additional 95,000 euros.
The children will also receive university scholarships and one child from each family will be entitled to a government job.
By Menelaos Hadjicostis. Ayse Wieting in Ankara, Turkey contributed