NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus’ president vowed on Thursday to press ahead with creating a national park in a largely untouched area of the tourism-reliant island, following a string of deliberately-set forest fires that were blamed on local landowners’ development plans.
Nicos Anastasiades tweeted that such actions only make authorities more determined to protect and rehabilitate the remote northwestern Akamas Peninsula.
Anastasiades said any development “can and must” be in step with efforts to safeguard the peninsula’s environmental value.
Authorities say “premeditated arson attacks” on Wednesday burnt around 70 hectares (173 acres) of dense pine forest in the area.
Authorities believe the fires may have been set by local residents who fear that declaring the area a national park will reduce property values and prevent land development.
Environment Minister Costas Kadis told state-run Cyprus News Agency that authorities plan to step up patrols of the peninsula and use new tools such as drones to help monitor the area.
He said the government’s project for Akamas will include controlled entrances and rules governing visitors’ activities, and will do away with the “anarchy” of the past.
Plans to declare the peninsula a national park have been in the works for at least 15 years, but political wrangling and opposition from local landowners have delayed their implementation.
Environment ministry officials say efforts are on course to declare the peninsula a park by 2022.