February 28, 2020 / 4:57 PM / a month ago

Cyprus to shut checkpoints for first time since 2003 over coronavirus

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus will close four checkpoints on the divided island for a week as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, the first closure since crossings between the two sides were eased in 2003 after decades of estrangement.

FILE PHOTO: People cross at a newly opened checkpoint linking the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities in Dherinia, Cyprus November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Any decision to curb movement on the island is politically sensitive because of the territorial split between its Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations since 1974, when Turkish forces invaded after a brief Greek inspired coup.

Cyprus has no reported cases of coronavirus, but Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said the four checkpoints, including one in the capital Nicosia used by hundreds of people daily, would close from Saturday, Feb. 29.

“For more effective control over entry points, and for a period of seven days, there is a temporary suspension,” Ioannou said, adding the situation was under continuous review.

The busiest checkpoint in the Ayios Dhometios suburb of Nicosia was excluded from the ban and would continue to operate. Earlier reports had suggested it would also be affected.

Several crossing points have been dotted along a United Nations-controlled ‘green line’ across the island since the first one opened in central Nicosia in early 2003.

Friday’s announcement triggered dismay among peace activists.

“As a peace movement, this measure is not only an insult to our intelligence but also to the rights of our people,” said Kemal Baycalli of the Unite Cyprus Now movement.

Another activist in the same group, Andromachi Sophocleous, told Reuters: “It is cooperation which is needed and not further measures which enhance partition.”

The United Nations peacekeeping force on the island, UNFICYP, said it had been informed of the decision.

“We call on both sides to continue their close cooperation in addressing any potential public health emergency and stand ready to assist both sides,” UNFICYP said in a statement.

Cypriot authorities have enforced discreet checks for coronavirus at its airports. Ports of entry in the north of the island are perceived by authorities in Nicosia to be illegal because they are not under the control of the internationally recognised government which represents Cyprus in the European Union.

Reporting by Michele Kambas; editing by Philippa Fletcher

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