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Missile dispute threatens Cyprus truce

missile January 10, 1997
Web posted at: 6:50 p.m. EST (2350 GMT)

(CNN) -- There they go again.

The uneasy peace between Greece and Turkey is threatening to unravel as a missile crisis escalated on the divided Mediterranean Island of Cyprus.

Turkey Friday warned that if the Greek Cypriot government went ahead with plans to purchase the Russian S-300 surface- to-air missiles, Turkey might respond militarily.

Turkish Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller accused Greece of encouraging the Cypriot government to create a Mediterranean missile crisis and said Turkey could knock out the Russian anti-aircraft missile system the Greek Cypriots plan to install.

"These offensive missiles will definitely not be deployed," said Ciller. "If they are deployed we will do what is needed. If that means they need to be hit, they will be hit."

Turkey also said it might occupy an abandoned tourist resort in Cyprus if the government didn't back down.

Wary of a renewal of the ancient feud between Greece and Turkey, the United States, Great Britain and the United Nations tried to cool down the tough talk.

"This is no time for the Turkish government to be making wild and dramatic statements," said U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns. "It would be completely out of bounds for Turkey to take this action."

Several days ago in announcing plans to buy the Russian missiles, the Greek Cypriot government said the weapons were purely defensive. They claimed the missiles are needed to help redress a military imbalance because the Greeks are outnumbered by Turkish troops and weapons.

Washington and London insist the move will lead to an arms buildup and further undermine efforts to end the 23-year division on Cyprus between Greeks and Turks.

The missiles are not expected to arrive on Cyprus for at least another eight months.

Peace on Cyprus has not been secure since the 1974 invasion and occupation of the northern part of the island by Turkish forces.


Greece and Turkey exchanged threatening words last summer over Cyprus after an unarmed Greek Cypriot protester was fatally shot by a solder while trying to pull down the red and white Turkish flag.

And a biker rally late last year on the so-called "green line" that separates Greek and Turkish forces resulted in gunfire and several deaths.

The latest incident has far more serious implications.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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