New rural force threadbare

Members of Greece’s revived Rural Police, put together with the aim of helping to protect the country’s shrinking forest areas, will be required to use their own cars and mobile phones to perform their duties and will be dressed in air force uniforms due to a lack of funds, it was revealed yesterday. Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras announced the reintroduction of the law enforcement unit last week. They had been disbanded by the previous, Socialist government nearly 15 years ago. The minister described the new force, which will patrol rural areas, as «ecological police» and said they will keep an eye out for forest fires while also helping keep forests clean and free of illegal building activity. Polydoras described yesterday the setting up of new rangers as an «historic moment» and said that 1,700 new officers will be hired in addition to the 1,000-member force that will start their duties as of August 16 until the end of the fire season. «We are on time. We are just about at the halfway mark of the fire season,» said the minister in reaction to criticism that the government is moving ahead with a delayed plan to battle the large number of forest fires this summer. The extra 1,700 officers are expected to start work as of 2009, while most of the initial workers will be picked from the government exam held to hire Rural Police in 1993. «We had been put on ice for 14 years. Today we at last feel relief for the re-establishment of the Rural Police,» one of the successful entrants from the 1993 exam told Kathimerini. One of the criticisms aimed at the government over the move is that successful candidates from the test 14 years ago will now be over the age of 40. Opposition parties have called the new rangers a trick by the conservative government to secure votes ahead of the upcoming national elections. «This is a party army designed to repay debts to political friends,» according to PASOK.