Turkish army seizes parrots, budgies on Syria border

ISTANBUL The Turkish army has confiscated 700 parrots and 294 budgerigars on the border with Syria, it said on Friday, as its tighter security measures ensnare what was once a thriving trade in domesticated birds.

NATO member Turkey has stepped up security along its 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria as it tries to prevent foreign fighters joining Islamic State militants and defend itself against spillover from the country’s civil war.

But the measures, including more frequent border patrols and reinforced fencing, have also shut off what was long a thriving illicit trade in goods including fuel, cigarettes, sugar and, it seems, birds.

“They were generally bringing Sultan, Love and Paradise parrots. Here in Turkey a Paradise parrot goes for 1,000 lira, but they were bringing them over for 500,” said Mehmet Turan, a bird breeder in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli.

“It’s the same for lovebirds. We were selling them at 25 lira retail, but they came from Syria at 12.5 to 15,” he told Reuters by telephone.

Some basic goods like sugar sold for around half the price in Syria, where it was produced, than in Turkey before the war. Fuel is heavily taxed in Turkey, meaning the black market for illegal diesel, however crudely refined, also thrived.

Turkey has won international praise for its humanitarian response to Syria’s war, maintaining an open door policy to those fleeing the violence and taking in more than 2.5 million refugees over almost five years.

But it is under pressure from Europe to stem the flow of migrants and from NATO allies to do more to secure the border.

While continuing to allow in refugees at border crossings, the Turkish army has been detaining those trying to cross illegally on an almost daily basis.

It said it detained almost 800 people on Thursday, and seized 2,660 packets of cigarettes, three cattle and a mobile phone along with the birds.

(Reporting by Melih Aslan and Daren Butler; Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Katharine Houreld)

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