Turkey denies Cyprus troop withdrawal offer in crunch talks

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United Nations peace keepers stand guard in the UN-controlled buffer zone in Nicosia between the southern Greek side of the island and the self proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) as Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot protestors entered the area during a demonstration calling for the unification of the Mediterranean island (AFP)

Turkey denied on Thursday it had offered to pull out the vast majority of its troops in Cyprus to help reach a peace deal for the divided Mediterranean island at make-or-break peace talks in Switzerland.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, describing the talks as a “final” diplomatic effort to resolve the issue, said Athens and the Greek Cypriot side had to “wake up” from the notion that Ankara would withdraw its troops.

Ankara maintains more than 35,000 troops in Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974 between the internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot south and the Turkish-occupied north.

A diplomatic source told AFP before the talks began on Wednesday in the Swiss Alpine resort of Crans-Montana that Turkey was willing to cut its troop presence by 80 percent in order to reach a deal. 

But the Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu said: “The reports which say our country will withdraw troops from the island as part of a four-stage plan and the percentages mentioned are false.”

As well as the leaders of Cyprus’ Greek- and Turkish-speaking communities, delegations from the island’s so-called guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and former colonial power Britain are also attending the UN-backed talks.

Cavusoglu also dismissed a withdrawal, saying Ankara would show flexibility but would not give up its basic principles.

“Zero soldiers, zero guarantee for us is not even a starting point for the meeting,” he told Turkish reporters in Crans-Montana. “We cannot accept something like this.”

He said both the Turkish Cypriot and the Turkish delegations understood the importance of the security guarantee, adding: “We have said it is not something the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey would give up.”

The foreign minister urged the Greek side to “wake up from a dream” and realise that Turks would not completely remove the troops.

Cavusoglu said the talks were “the final conference” and it was “necessary” to reach an outcome now.

“We will not negotiate forever on these issues in this way. This has an end. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, the negotiations’ format will be different.”



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