Interim Minister of Customs and Commerce Cenap Aşçı has told reporters that a ban on exports of oil cans to Syria curbed oil smuggling to and from Turkey's southern neighbor.
Oil smuggling had considerably increased due to a state of lawlessness in Syria, which shares a lengthy border with Turkey, after the uprising in 2011 escalated to an all-out war that shows no sign of dwindling in its fourth year.
"We have detected an incredible rise in exports of plastic cans with a capacity of 50 to 60 liters to Syria. Naturally, we were curious and investigated it. Soon, we found out that they used them for oil smuggling by mules from Syria to Turkey. We banned the exports, and oil smuggling significantly decreased," Aşçı said on Saturday.
No recent statistics are available on oil smuggling, but figures supplied by the Turkish National Police show that in Hatay, a southern province on the border, more than 5.3 million liters of oil - mostly smuggled from Syria - were confiscated last year. This figure is likely far higher as anti-smuggling operations are usually carried out on the border, which is the area of responsibility for gendarmerie troops. Smugglers, mostly armed, sometimes risk clashing with Turkish security forces thwarting their activities, and sometimes resort to setting up makeshift pipelines to transfer oil between Turkey and Syria.
Minister Aşçı denied claims that ISIS, which controls some Syrian towns near the border, set up such a pipeline. "There have been attempts, but all were prevented," he said. The minister said the ISIS presence in Syria also threatened smugglers. "They can't even find oil at times to smuggle," he said.
Cigarette smuggling from and to Syria also thrived after the conflict erupted. Aşçı said smugglers had trafficked in cigarettes from Syria they legally exported to that country, and the government had banned cigarette exports to Syria to prevent this.
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