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UN says Cyprus crossing closures over coronavirus 'disruptive'

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Nicosia (AFP)

The United Nations voiced concern on Thursday over the disruption caused by the Cyprus government's temporary closure of several crossings on the divided island's ceasefire line over the coronavirus crisis.

"Following the decision to temporarily close four crossing points along the buffer zone, UNFICYP is concerned by the ongoing disruption caused to people on both sides," the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus said in a statement.

"While the UN supports all effective measures to address any potential public health emergency, it is imperative for the two sides to coordinate closely in order to provide a comprehensive response," it added.

The Mediterranean island is divided between the Republic of Cyprus -- a European Union member state -- and the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara.

Four of the eight checkpoints on the line dividing the island were closed Saturday for an initial seven-day period "for more effective control over the entry points", Cypriot authorities said.

But on Thursday Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said they would remain closed until Monday when the situation will be reviewed again.

The move has caused friction between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities with the UN advising both sides to cooperate in a spirit of trust to address a possible health emergency.

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci has criticised the closure of the crossings, calling it "unilateral" and "unnecessary".

"This one-sided decision was not a correct decision, it should be revised," Akinci told Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in a telephone call.

"This virus is a common threat for both communities. For this reason, it is necessary to act together against this danger and fight together," he said, quoted by Turkish Cypriot officials.

Cyprus has not reported any cases of coronavirus, which has killed more than 3,000 people worldwide, mostly in China, where the epidemic started in late December.

Akinci urged Anastasiades to "correct" what he called a political decision not based on scientific grounds.

Anastasiades denied that the closures were a political ploy, saying: "We have taken a decision which is based on scientific data."

It is the first time the crossings have closed since they were first opened in 2003.

UN-brokered reunification talks between Anastasiades and Akinci have been suspended since 2017.

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