Missile dispute threatens Cyprus truce
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
"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
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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