Greece’s Prime Minister George Papandreou urged Turkey on Monday to withdraw its troops from Cyprus to help ongoing talks aimed at reunifying the divided island.
The long-festering dispute on the eastern Mediterranean island has poisoned relations between Greece and Turkey, both NATO members, undermining alliance and European Union cooperation on security and hindering Turkey’s bid for EU membership.
“It’s a matter that either we solve it to unite us, or it will keep us divided,” George Papandreou said after talks with Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias.
Cyprus was split into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south in 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to a short-lived coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkey does not recognize the south and maintains around 35,000 troops in the north.
The island joined the European Union in 2004, but only the Greek Cypriots enjoy membership benefits.
“Certainly, occupation troops cannot be allowed to exist in an EU-member state, especially by an EU-candidate country,” said Papandreou.