Turkey rejects EU call for withdrawal from northern Cyprus

Turkey said Wednesday it would not withdraw troops from the divided island of Cyprus, rejecting a call from the European Parliament (EP).

European lawmakers on Wednesday endorsed a resolution that urged Turkey to start prompt withdrawal of troops from Cyprus, a Mediterranean island divided into the Turkish north and Greek south since 1974. Turkey’s Chief Negotiator for European Union (EU) talks Egemen Bagis said Wednesday it was impossible for Turkey to accept the sections regarding Cyprus in the resolution.

“Turkey does not have a plan or view to withdraw troops from the island,” Bagis was quoted as saying before meeting Atlantic Council President Frederick Kempe in Ankara. Bagis said the EP resolution on Turkey, an EU aspirant, lost its impartiality and “reflected a compromise among political groups in the parliament rather than the facts in Turkey.” Not only Turkey but also other sides have troops in Cyprus, Bagis said, referring to the United Nations peacekeepers. He said Turkish presence also assumes a role in restoring peace and stability on the island. “EU process is important for Turkey, however, it is not as important as to make us sacrifice Cyprus. Cyprus is a national cause for all of us,” he said.

The EU agreed to launch accession talks with Turkey in October 2005 but progress was slow as the 27-nation bloc has urged Ankara to normalize relations with Cyprus and speed up reforms to improve human rights and democracy. Turkey supports the ongoing peace talks between the Greek and Turkish communities in Cyprus aimed at finding a solution, Bagis added.

In 1974, the Turkish military intervened and occupied the northern part of Cyprus in response to a coup by a group of Greek officers. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriot authorities declared breakaway and set up “the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” which is recognized only by Turkey. Ankara retains some 35,000 troops in the north and refuses to recognize the Republic of Cyprus, which has international recognition. Peace talks between leaders of the Greek and Turkish communities restarted in September 2008, but wide divergences remain on central issues although the two sides agreed on several points.

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