Rival sides in Cyprus join to fight wildfire in north

May 17, 2020 - 1:44 pm

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Two aircraft dispatched by Cyprus' internationally recognized government for the first time helped to fight a wildfire in the breakaway north of the ethnically divided island nation, an official said Sunday.

A fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter have been helping to battle the blaze following a request by Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, Cyprus’ government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said.

Koushos said Akkinci thanked President Nicos Anastasiades for immediately responding to the call for help. Anastasiades told Akinci that he’s ready to assist in any way.

Turkish Cypriot authorities said two Turkish firefighting aircraft are also assisting in the efforts.

The wildfire has scorched hundreds of acres of forest near the tip of Morphou Bay in the north and has forced the evacuation of dozens of people while some needed medical care.

The outreach by both sides comes at a time when efforts to resolve the country's ethnic split have been at a complete standstill. Meanwhile, crossing points along a 120-mile (nearly 200-kilometer) U.N.-controlled buffer zone that divides the country remain closed because of measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Although both sides have been gradually rolling back restrictions on movement, the crossing points remain closed.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

The Cypriot government will lift all restrictions, including a nighttime curfew on May 21, but commercial air traffic is expected to resume in mid-June.

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