The leader of the Greek Cypriot administration in southern Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, has demanded Turkey withdraw its troops from the island’s north as a pre-condition for reaching a political solution with the Turkish Cypriots.
The eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus has been ethnically divided between Turkish Cypriots in the north and Greek Cypriots in the south since 1974, when Turkey conducted a military intervention on the island in response to a coup carried out by the Greek junta.
According to the Treaty of Guarantee - which was signed shortly after Cyprus became independent from the British Empire in 1960 - Turkey, Greece and the UK are responsible for ensuring peace in Cyprus between its Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities.
However, a coup toppling the Cypriot government orchestrated by Greek nationalist militant group EOKA-B and the Greek military junta in a bid to annex the island to Greece sparked a reaction from Turkey, which on July 20, 1974, launched an operation to secure the island’s north as a safe haven for the Turkish Cypriot community.
Turkey has since then maintained a military presence in the island’s breakaway north, which declared independence as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983.
The issue of Turkish troops on the island has been a topic of contention between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots for decades, as the two sides struggle to agree terms to end over forty years of division of their island.
A previous attempt to reunite the island in 2004 was brought forward in the form of a referendum proposed by then UN secretary general Kofi Annan. While 64.9 percent of Turkish Cypriots voted to reunite the island - which would have secured the withdrawal of Turkish troops. 75.8 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against reunification.
Despite the result Greek Cyprus accepted into the EU, while the Turkish Cypriot side remained unrecognised by the international community with the exception of Turkey.
Speaking in an interview with CNN Turk’s Elif Ozgen, Anastasiades dismissed the idea of a solution with the Turkish Cypriots unless Turkey pulls its troops from the island, while suggesting that a reunited Cyprus should not have guarantors.
However, Anastasiades at the same time said he and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci were working to achieve an agreement “as soon as possible,” without making any promises on when a settlement will be reached.
Anastasiades slams ‘motherlands’
On Sunday Anastasiades also criticised the role of the “motherlands” of the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot people, referring to Turkey and Greece respectively, blaming them for the division of the island.
While claiming that everyone shared a part of the blame, the Greek Cypriot leader said “unfortunately, to a limited extent initially, the motherlands played the worst role; one of them at least, while the other one continued.”
He also said he wanted to believe the people of Cyprus have “detached” themselves and “become independent.”
“The umbilical cord with any other motherland must be severed,” he said.
Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci on Monday said that the he and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Anastasiades could meet with representatives from the three guarantor states in a multilateral meeting in New York this coming September.
Talks between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities were revived on May 15 when newly elected Turkish Cypriot leader Akinci and Greek Cypriot leader Anastasiades were brought together by the UN’s envoy to Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, in the UN-controlled buffer-zone separating the two sides of the island.
Negotiations had stalled for seven months after Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades withdrew from them last October when Turkey sent its Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa seismic vessel to the island’s waters to search for hydrocarbon reserves.
The deployment of the vessel came on the same day joint Italian-South Korean energy consortium Eni-Kogas began drilling for hydrocarbon reserves in the Greek Cypriots’ declared Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Turkey, which does not recognise the Greek Cypriot administration, had warned against drilling for resources before a deal between the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots is achieved. The withdrawal of the Eni-Kogas drillship in April - followed by the withdrawal of the Turkish vessel - created room for talks to restart.
Akinci and Anastasiades since the resumption of talks have agreed on confidence-building measures, as part of a renewed push in negotiations to achieve a lasting solution. As part of this improvement of relations, Anastasiades disclosed the coordinates of 28 minefields in the north of Cyprus and Akinci announced the lifting of the need to fill in forms for people crossing the divide from the north to the south.