Presence of Turkish troops in Cyprus necessary, says defence minister

It is necessary for Turkey to keep its troops on the divided island of Cyprus to exercise its rights as a guarantor power, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Saturday.

“We have fulfilled our rights and responsibilities as guarantors without any shortcomings or interruptions and are determined to continue doing so. In order to do this, the presence of the Turkish Armed Forces on the island is necessary," independent news site T24 quoted Akar as saying while visiting Turkish troops on the north of island.

Akar said Ankara’s views on Cyprus have been the same since 1974.

Turkey has maintained a sizeable military presence in Cyprus since it was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded the north in response to a Greek Cypriot coup aiming to unite the island with Greece. Since then, the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus has controlled the southern two-thirds of the island, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, only recognised by Turkey, the northern third.

Greece perceive talks of peace by Turkey as weakness, and Ankara’s unwillingness to accept faits accompli as a threat, the Turkish defence minister added.

Akar went on to say that Ankara is pursuing a policy of good neighbourly relations in the Aegean, the Eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus.

The Turkish defence minister also called on its neighbours to "come to their senses" over reactions to Turkey’s drilling in the eastern Mediterranean. 

The dispute over potentially rich natural gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean has fuelled tension between Turkey, Cyprus and Greece. The internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus has accused Turkey of illegally drilling in the Cypriot exclusive economic zone, but Turkey says parts of the area belong to it own continental shelf.

Akar said Turkey’s drill ships continued to work in the region with the support of the Naval Forces Command.

There are currently two Turkish drilling ships in the eastern Mediterranean and another ship is set to join them later this month.