Northern Cyprus braces for oil slick from a power plant in Syria

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The divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus braced on Tuesday for an approaching oil slick from a power plant in Syria that threatened a pristine coastal stretch of the breakaway north.

Environmental officials in self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) – internationally recognized only by Ankara – said that 20,000 tons of fuel oil had spilled from the Syrian plant.

“It is a complete disaster for the marine ecosystem,” the head of the North’s chamber environmental engineers, Cemaliye Ozverel Ekinci, told the local TAK news agency.

“This problem is not just a problem that concerns Northern Cyprus,” Ekinci said. “We should act together with the south,” Ekinci said.

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Syria’s electricity minister had told the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper on Monday that the size of the leak ranged from two to four tons of fuel.

He added that a committee had been formed to investigate the cause.

The head of the North’s deep diving center, Erol Adalier, said the oil slick was approaching the island’s northeastern Karpaz peninsula – a wild region of sandy beaches and verdant hills.

He added that the oil had reached to within 20 miles (32 kilometers) of the coast on Tuesday morning and was drawing nearer by the hour.

Local officials said Turkey had sent teams to assess the situation and prepare a response.

“Even if it passes us tangentially, it will affect Turkey,” the North’s Tourism and Environment Minister Fikri Ataoglu said.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974.

The Republic of Cyprus – whose overwhelming majority are Greek Cypriots and which has been a European Union member since 2004 – has effective control over the southern two-thirds of the island.

The TRNC government relies almost exclusively on financial and other assistance from Ankara.

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