A Greek Cypriot police vessel was chased out of an area north of Tylliria, with reports saying shots were fired before an encounter with a Turkish coast guard vessel came to an end, while a Turkish Cypriot statement denies such an incident ever took place.
According to the Cyprus News Agency, a Greek Cypriot small vessel managed by port police in the Republic of Cyprus was conducting a routine patrol along the coast of Kato Pyrgos Tylliria, in the northern part of the island.
Police spokesperson Christos Andreou said the small boat with three crew members on board was conducting a patrol on Friday early morning, around 3:30am, in response to illegal or undocumented migration in the area.
“While it was out about 11 nautical miles, it was approached by a Turkish coast guard vessel with aggressive intentions,” Andreou said, adding that the small vessel turned back toward the fishing pier in Kato Pyrgos to avoid any incident.
'This is just another indication of the negative approach by the Greek Cypriot side against the Turkish Cypriot people by turning an incident, which did not even take place, into a situation'
“At one point, about 4 miles, the Turkish coast guard vessel fired warning shots towards the marine police vessel,” the spokesperson said, adding the Greek Cypriots reached the pier while the Turks left the area.
But a local community leader says it is inconceivable for authorities to patrol the area only with a small boat.
Kato Pyrgos head councilor Nicos Kleanthous, who has spoken publicly including very recently against undocumented migrants arriving in the area, told CNA Friday morning that the incident was “a serious provocation” and a part of an effort to protect human smugglers.
Coast Guard officials in the Republic of Cyprus have been criticized of carrying out pushback policies against undocumented migrants including asylum seekers and presumptive refugees.
Kleanthous said a feeling of insecurity was becoming stronger and described the incident as yet another reason to call for more patrols in the area both on land and at sea. The councilor has been calling for more law enforcement agents in his area to man both a local station as well as boost the numbers in marine police of Kato Pyrgos.
Government spokesperson Marios Pelekanos also weighed in Friday morning, saying there was no violation on the part of the marine police vessel “since it was located at 11 nautical miles, which is within the permitted area.”
“There is no excuse for this behavior by the Turkish vessel. Marine police was simply conducting a routine patrol,” Pelekanos said, adding that all the necessary information was being gathered in order to report the incident to the United Nations.
The encounter came just weeks after a Greek Cypriot fishing boat, the Maria Bouboulina, was intercepted by a Turkish coast guard vessel in late June off the northeastern tip of the island.
As Bouboulina was being escorted back south empty-handed, the fishing boat was instructed to stop again off the peninsula close to Apostolos Andreas, where four Turkish Cypriot police officers came on board and drew a line on a map of Cyprus to delimitate an area off bounds for the Greek Cypriot vessel.
It was not clear whether the Turkish vessel came close or had any radio communication with the Greek Cypriot boat during Friday’s incident.
Turkish Cypriots issue response
The Turkish Cypriot coast guard in the north issued a statement later in the afternoon, denying such an incident ever took place.
“This piece of news, as always, is just another indication of the negative approach by the Greek Cypriot side against the Turkish Cypriot people by turning an incident, which did not even take place, into a situation,” the statement said.
Earlier the foreign ministry of the Republic of Cyprus protested to UNFICYP over the incident.
But foreign ministry spokesperson Demetris Samuel told CNA it was “premature” to say if the incident was linked to the climate over an upcoming visit in the north by Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan early next week.
Story has been updated with Turkish Cypriot coast guard and Greek Cypriot foreign ministry statements