October 15, 2019 / 11:03 AM / 2 months ago

Bulgaria calls for Turkey to halt military operation in Syria

FILE PHOTO: Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov leaves a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria told neighboring Turkey on Tuesday to call off its military offensive in northeast Syria, saying the violence could lead to rising numbers of migrants crossing the border and heighten the risk of a humanitarian crisis.

“We insist that the military actions be stopped. Diplomacy is the only way that can solve this conflict,” Prime Minister Boy Boris told reporters after a meeting of Bulgaria’s consultative Security Council on the situation in Syria.

“We are firm that the military operation should stop, that the risk of a humanitarian crisis is very big. If there is a humanitarian crisis it would mean an increase of migrant inflows,” he said.

Bulgaria, an EU member with a land border of more than 300 km (187 miles) with Turkey, was currently experiencing no pressure from migrants seeking entry, Boris said.

Turkey, which hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, has threatened to “open the gates” to allow those refugees to head for Europe if the EU opposed Turkey’s actions in northern Syria.

While U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Turkey, the EU decided on Monday to take a softer stand by allowing member countries to consider their own restrictions on arms sales to Turkey - a measure that is likely to be brushed off as trivial as arms account for just 45 million euros out of more than 150 billion euros in Turkey-EU trade.

The Bulgarian prime minister reiterated his support for the deal that the EU struck with Turkey on refugees in 2016. As a result of that accord, Brussels has provided billions of euros in aid in return for Ankara stemming the influx of migrants into Europe after more than 1 million people entered the bloc.

“I want the deal with Turkey to be respected.. If 50,000 or 100,000 or 200,000 migrants enter Bulgaria, I do not know what will happen with the country... And while Turkey is following the agreement with Bulgaria at 100%, I am obliged to support that position,” Boris said.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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