NEWS

Cyprus war of nerves

NICOSIA (AFP) – Cypriot Defense Minister Socrates Hasikos yesterday accused Ankara of waging a war of nerves by sending an additional 5,500 troops to the Turkish-occupied north of the divided island, bolstering its military presence there to more than 40,000. «This is a systematic effort on behalf of Turkey to create tension; it is no longer confined to words but has progressed to action,» Hasikos told a press conference. He said Turkey’s act of military brinkmanship was a deliberate move to escalate tension ahead of Cyprus’s impending European Union accession. «Turkey wants to appear convincing in its efforts, which are none other than to prevent Cyprus from joining the EU,» Hasikos said. «It is a war of nerves against the Greek Cypriots and the EU.» Leading EU candidate Cyprus expects to wrap up its accession negotiations by July and join an enlarged European family by January 2004. [In Luxembourg late on Monday, the EU approved the 28th of 30 chapters on harmonizing Cypriot with Union law.] Ankara has threatened to annex the occupied north if Cyprus enters before a political settlement is reached, but the EU has often stated that settlement is not a condition for entry. Hasikos said the information on the troops increase was «cross-checked and verified» and observed by the United Nations here. Extra troops and mobile field hospitals were dispatched to the north starting May 24 in an operation completed two days ago, the minister said. However, he said there was no evidence of new weapons systems being shipped over. When asked to confirm Hasikos’s claims, UN spokesman Brian Kelly said that «any relevant information that we have on this we have sent to New York.» Government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou said Nicosia would make «specific protests» against the Turkish action. Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash have held talks since mid-January with few signs of the compromise needed to achieve a breakthrough by the end-of-June target date. [They met yesterday, and will meet again on Friday.] Denktash said on Monday that the EU was trying to force the disappearance of his self-proclaimed state, which would indicate «a one-way ticket to the cemetery» for the Turkish community on the island. Ending a two-day visit to the island yesterday, British envoy for Cyprus Lord Hannay said peace talks should be accelerated. «Some progress has been made, but much more remains to be done and time is relatively short,» he said.