Oddly Enough

Cypriots and U.N. soldiers in asparagus standoff

A chef prepares a tray of organic asparagus in the kitchen at The Ritz hotel in London during its 100th anniversary year, in this file photo from April 19, 2006. REUTERS/Catherine Benson

NICOSIA (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers have upset traditional wild asparagus harvesters on the ethnically divided island of Cyprus by preventing them from entering a buffer zone to gather the tasty shoots.

U.N. soldiers, restricting access to the buffer zone which splits the island from east to west after Cyprus was divided in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a Greek-inspired coup, say they are only doing their job, but residents are livid.

“This is unacceptable behaviour and I have demanded that action is taken,” said Nicos Kotziambashis, leader of the Greek Cypriot village of Mammari which has been particularly hit by the U.N. ban. “The situation is explosive.”

“It is not something we particularly like to do but unfortunately if the asparagus is found in the buffer zone the peacekeepers have to do their job, which is to regulate access to that part of the territory,” a U.N. spokesman told Reuters.

Plentiful rains ensured a bumper crop of “aggrelia” this year exacerbating the standoff between soldiers and the army of locals who flock to pick asparagus, which tied in green and red burgundy bunches, sells for up to four euros at local markets.

Asparagus harvesting has never been for the faint-hearted with pickers crawling into dense thorn bushes to pick the delicate shoots from the undergrowth.

Reporting by Michele Kambas