ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused Greece on Friday of “fleeing” efforts to reunite Cyprus and said Turkey would retain troops there forever to protect minority ethnic Turks.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, striking a decidedly more genial tone a day after Geneva talks adjourned with no final settlement, said future negotiations should “find the ways and means so that both communities of this beautiful island will feel safe and secure.”
“We need time. We can’t have everything on day one,” he told a Geneva news conference.
Cyprus has been partitioned into ethnic Turkish and Greek zones since Turkish troops invaded in 1974 in response to a short-lived coup by Greek Cypriot militants seeking union with Greece. But intercommunal violence had simmered since the 1960s when a power-sharing system collapsed.
Focus of disagreement at the Geneva talks, widely regarded as the best opportunity in decades of forging a settlement, was the dispute over security guarantees for the two communities.
“We have told Cyprus and Greece clearly that they should not expect a solution without Turkey as guarantor. We are going to be there forever,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul after Friday prayers.
Greece, Turkey and Britain were assigned as “guarantor” powers in a treaty adopted when Cyprus gained independence of London in 1960. Greece seeks abolition of the guarantor system, accusing Turkey of abusing it through its 1974 invasion and the continued stationing of some 30,000 Turkish troops in the north.
“It is out of the question for Turkish soldiers to pull out completely, and we’ve discussed this before,” Erdogan said. “If something like this is being considered, then both sides should pull their troops out of there.”
Greece has a batallion of about 1,100 troops on Cyprus. Erdogan says there is a plan for 650 Turkish troops and 950 Greek troops to remain on the island after a settlement.
Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades’ mood seemed closer to Aknici’s - both men are considered moderates on an island where wounds still run deep. He said resumed talks should produce a “radical” change in the island’s security situation.
“The fact that the U.N. announcement outlines a clear intent by participants to reach a mutually acceptable solution on the security and guarantee issues … is a mandate to the working groups to process new forms (of guarantees), acceptable and radically different from the guarantee system of 1960,” he said.
Technical talks on security are expected to parallel negotiations on unresolved issues in areas such as property restoration and boundaries for a bizonal republic with a central administration that is likely to enjoy quite limited powers.
Foreign ministers of the guarantor powers attended the talks on Thursday, a measure of hopes raised after four decades of division. Efforts have been given some momentum by instability in the neighboring Middle Eastern region and by discovery of large natural gas deposits off the eastern coast.
“Can you consider a situation where the natural gas deposits, instead of triggering enmity, triggering trouble, it becomes an area of cooperation?” Akinci asked.
There was no precise date set for the guarantors to meet again, but officials said they would reconvene once the sides had codified their positions.
Referring to a previous failed reunification bid overseen by erstwhile U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Erdogan said:
“We had told Mr Annan that we would not be the side that would run, and that the Greek side and Greece would be the party to run. And you see now that Greece is fleeing.”
A 2004 U.N.-backed blueprint was approved in a referendum in the Turkish part of the island but rejected by Greek Cypriots.
In a groundbreaking move on Wednesday, the sides submitted proposals on how to define the post-settlement boundaries. Under the proposals, Turkish Cypriots would retain between 28.2 and 29.2 percent of total Cypriot territory, down from about 36 percent now.
Britain has offered as part of any final peace deal to relinquish about half of the 98 square miles it still administers - equivalent to 3 percent of Cypriot territory.
Erdogan went into some detail over the talks, attacking a rotating presidency for the central administration that would allow Turks one term for every four Greek turns.
“The Northern Cypriot Turkish Republic will have leadership for one term and the Southern side for two terms. This is what is just,” he said.
Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva; writing by Ralph Boulton