Cyprus to hold large-scale army exercises soon

NICOSIA (AFP) – Cyprus will hold its first large-scale military exercises in four years, the Defense Ministry said yesterday, ignoring objections from the United Nations, Washington and London. «Nikiforos 2005» will take place October 18-23 across the «sea, land and air space of the Cyprus Republic,» a statement said. The statement made no reference to the northern third of Cyprus being occupied by Turkish forces, who back a self-proclaimed state recognized only by Ankara. The war games, which had mobilized around 20,000 Greek-Cypriot reservists, were shelved after 2001 to create an improved climate for UN-sponsored peace talks to reunite the divided island. Cyprus held the exercises in conjunction with the Greek armed forces carrying out similar maneuvers, code-named Toxotis, in the region. When Greece decided to back out of joint exercises in recent years, Cyprus followed suit in order to cultivate a climate of good will and reduce tensions while UN peace efforts continued to search for a Cyprus settlement. This time, Cyprus has decided go ahead on its own regardless of what Athens decides to do. The United Nations, Washington and London had all encouraged the exercises not to take place so as not to worsen tensions in the region, and the Cypriot government can expect some fallout from this decision. However, there has been growing pressure from some political parties and sections of the media for the maneuvers to go ahead. Yesterday’s announcement ends months of speculation. The latest diplomatic effort to end partition failed in April 2004 when the Greek Cypriots voted down a UN-drafted reunification plan, while Turkish Cypriots overwhelmingly supported it. The UN plan has been in the deep freeze ever since. The Cyprus issue is a stumbling block for Turkey’s European aspirations, as Ankara refuses to recognize Cyprus.