Hopes for a peace deal in Cyprus stalled on Friday over a decades-old dispute, with the rival sides at loggerheads over the future of Turkish troops on the divided island.
The Greek foreign minister denounced the continued presence of Turkish troops in northern Cyprus after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a full pull-out was “out of the question”.
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Nikos Kotzias said there can be no end to the four-decade division of Cyprus while 30,000 Turkish “occupation” troops remain on the ground.
“A just solution [to division] means, first of all, eliminating what caused it, namely the occupation and presence of occupation forces,” he said in a ministry statement on Friday as he left Geneva.
In a televised appearance, Erdogan said that Turkey must remain guarantor to Cyprus, even if a deal to reunify the island that runs through both Turkish and Greek lines is made.
He added that a full withdrawal of troops could only be possible if Greece, which deploys a troop contingent, did the same.
Erdogan also indicated that there were significant differences on the issue of a rotating presidency for any future bizonal united Cyprus divided between Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot entities.
He said that according to previous talks, a fair presidential rotation between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots should be implemented, which included two terms for the Greek side, for every term granted to the Turkish side.
“That is fair. If we want a fair and comprehensive peace then this is the way to do it,” he said.
The comments were made a day after the week-long United Nations-backed peace talks in Geneva, which raised hope that an agreement on reunifying the island can be reached.
Negotiations between Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci aiming to forge a united, two-zone federation in the eastern Mediterranean island, were accompanied by top officials from Cyprus’ guarantor powers: Greece, Turkey and former colonial ruler Britain.
Akinci has insisted that some Turkish military presence is essential for Turkish Cypriots to feel secure in a prospective united country, despite Anastasiades position that a timeline must be agreed on for those troops to eventually withdraw.
“Our position remains … that we must agree on the withdrawal of the Turkish army,” Anastasiades said on Friday.
Anastasiades nevertheless said the talks in Geneva had raised hopes that a deal can in fact be struck since guarantor powers broached security matters for the first time.
“We are on a path that creates hope,” he said.
The island was divided after a 1974 invasion by Turkish troops, which came in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.
Cyprus is home to about 800,000 Greek Cypriots and 220,000 Turkish Cypriots. The 1974 invasion, along with intercommunal violence that took place in the 1960s, displaced a total of about 200,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots.