Turkey’s top soldier sees no EU threat

Effectively shrugging off a warning by the European Commission that Turkey’s path toward closer ties with the European Union passes through Cyprus, the country’s top soldier stressed yesterday that for Ankara, Cyprus is a security issue. He noted that Britain’s bases on the island were also not included in the EU. Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, chairman of the combined chiefs of staff, said, «Cyprus is on an axis from Britain to Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, the Suez Canal, India and Singapore. For this reason, Britain does not include its bases on Cyprus in Europe’s acquis communautaire.» In an interview with the Turkish daily Radikal, Ozkok, who rarely grants requests for interviews, explained the Turkish military’s view of a possible solution to the island’s division. «If a political situation that we do not approve of arises or which we cannot influence, then there will be an issue of territorial waters and the continental shelf. There is the issue of the economic zone and fishing. In this case, Cyprus will become an area in which we will not be able to move freely,» Ozkok said. «We already have problems in the West, if we add problems in the south, this will mean the imprisonment of Turkey.» The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tried to push Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash into accepting UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s proposal for the reunification of Cyprus. But the military under Ozkok has supported Denktash as he stands firm against any compromise. Erdogan has since wavered in his position on Cyprus. He is expected to visit the Turkish-occupied north of the island on Saturday, the 20th anniversary of a unilateral declaration of independence by Denktash. Only Ankara recognizes the breakaway state – on which EU laws will not apply when the island joins the Union on May 1. Noting that Turkish troops will be on part of the island that will now belong to the EU, Ozkok said: «I don’t think that any European will come here saying, ‘This is EU territory so leave it in a few days,’ and will fight and die on Cyprus. I don’t expect this from the EU. They may impose sanctions, but if you have political will and a strong economy, this can be dealt with.»