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Solder stole flag from Turkish post

A GREEK Cypriot soldier could have provoked a military crisis when he foolishly crept across the buffer zone, tore down a Turkish flag and stole military equipment from an unmanned Turkish army barracks, the government said yesterday.

Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou was extremely critical of the act and said the soldier's actions were "of concern" and "condemnable".

The National Guard and Defence Military had reacted quickly to try and avert any repercussions by returning the items through the UNFICYP, Stefanou said.

"The government does not condone acts that overturn the state of affairs on the ceasefire line," he said.

The solider, who has been arrested by military police, had been posted at an army barracks on the Green Line in Ayios Andreas in Nicosia when he decided to cross the buffer zone and enter the occupied areas to steal the flag, a bullet proof vest and a helmet.

Reports said the Turkish side did not man the post during daylight, which was likely why the young man had decided to abandon his sentry post on Thursday afternoon and sneak across to the unmanned barracks.

His superiors found out what happened when the National Guardsman bragged to his army friends about what he'd done. The soldier was promptly arrested and the issue was immediately brought to the attention of the NG and Defence Ministry leadership, who contacted UNFICYP.

"[Such acts] pose a lot of dangers. Dangers to the lives of National Guards and dangers to the area, and are a source of other possible consequences, so they have to be avoided," said Stefanou.

He said soldiers were given strict orders about how to behave and uphold the current ceasefire, and that they were told to be "very careful to avoid unpleasant situations which we've unfortunately had in the past".

The government congratulated the NG and Defence Ministry for its handling of the issue, which could have led to a repeat of "tragic past experiences involving the murder of National Guardsmen".

Stefanou said all measures in line with standard protocols governed by such situations had been taken. He reassured the parents of conscripts and the area's residents that the situation was under control.

Turkish troops have shot dead unarmed Greek Cypriot soldiers in the buffer zone in the past. In 1996 an unarmed 19-year-old soldier was shot when he entered the buffer zone when he was beckoned over by a Turkish solider. A similar incident occurred in 1993, when a Greek Cypriot soldier was killed approaching a Turkish army sentry post east of Nicosia. He was also unarmed, carrying a bottle of brandy to share with a Turkish soldier on the other side.

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