NEWS

Troops unmoved by plan

BUERGENSTOCK – Even if a Cyprus peace deal uniting Greek and Turkish Cypriots goes ahead, the island is set to remain a playground for foreign soldiers. The presence of Greek, Turkish and British troops, as well as UN peacekeepers, in what would become a European Union nation if all goes well, could turn the tourist island into a festering strategic sore for NATO and a diplomatic nightmare. The latest Cyprus plan by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan envisages the indefinite stay of troops from Turkey and Greece – NATO members who have come to the brink of war in the past over territorial disputes in the Aegean. Britain, the former colonial power in Cyprus, will maintain its two bases on the island, while the 1,200-strong UN peacekeeping force there will triple in size. The military aspect troubles Greek Cypriots and Greece, who saw the island partitioned by a 1974 Turkish invasion in response to a brief Greek-Cypriot coup backed by Athens. «Our observations (on the UN plan) mainly focus on security issues,» Greek government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said. Both Greeks and their ethnic Cypriot brethren had hoped the new plan would remove all forces from the island. But while Greek and Turkish forces would be scaled down within two years of reunification, and Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot armies would be dismantled, many troops would remain. At present there are about 30,000 Turkish troops, about 5,000 Greek and 3,000 British spread through the island where, despite the numbers, barely a shot has been fired in anger in the 30 years since the island was divided. Turkish Cypriots believe there must always be a Turkish military presence to protect them, as a minority community on an island where about two-thirds of the 800,000 people are Greek. In the 1960s, intercommunal violence followed the collapse of a power-sharing government which eventually led to Turkey’s invasion. «Greek and Turkish forces and armaments shall be redeployed to agreed locations and adjusted to agreed levels,» the UN plan says. Greek-Cypriot government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides said, «The important point is… that Turkish troops remain (on the island) even after Turkey joins the EU.» Brussels will decide in December whether to set a date for the start of entry negotiations with EU hopeful Turkey. The 6,000 troops each that Greece and Turkey can base on the island under the plan will remain there until 2011. That number must drop to 3,000 each by 2018 or earlier if Turkey joins the European Union. But even if Turkey becomes an EU member like Greece, they can station 650 and 950 troops respectively. That, say Greeks and Greek Cypriots, is not good enough. The Greek daily Eleftherotypia called military provisions in the plan «a gift to Ankara.» The troops’ role will be to maintain constitutional order, with intervention rights to crack down on any violence in either of the two communities. «But, in a way, that is exactly what happened in 1974 when the dictatorship in Athens wanted to overthrow the government and annex the island and Turkey invaded the northern third to restore order,» a diplomatic source told Reuters. «With the troops now remaining on the island and having intervention rights, the conditions are essentially the same.» Since Cyprus is set to join the EU on May 1 even if there is no deal, questions also arise about how Brussels will treat the presence of Turkey’s 30,000 troops on what will then be EU soil, although not under the control of the Nicosia government. EU officials fret privately that the issue may arise unpredictably if there is no settlement. Either way, they say, the island’s status quo cannot endure because Cypriot accession changes things forever.