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Cyprus missiles to be based on Crete

CYPRUS AVERTED the threat of a military confrontation with its Turkish neighbour yesterday when it cancelled plans to deploy Russian surface-to-air missiles on the divided island.

In Nicosia yesterday, the Greek Cypriot President of the island, Glafcos Clerides, announced that the S-300 missiles would be deployed on Crete, 500 miles from Cyprus.

Mr Clerides's decision, which followed talks with the Greek Prime Minister, Costas Simitis, will infuriate Greek Cypriot nationalists who have demanded the missiles' deployment on Cyprus in order to kick- start reunification talks for the island, divided since the Turks occupied its northern third in 1974.

The United States and Nato criticised Mr Clerides's decision two years ago to purchase the missiles, fearing conflict between Turkey and Greece, both of which belong to Nato. Turkey said the missiles would be a threat to the Turkish Cypriot community and threatened to strike the installation site, a move that Greece said would be cause for war. In Cyprus there were also fears that the tension over the missiles might adversely affect Cyprus's attempt to join the European Union.

Ankara stations some 30,000 troops in the Turkish section of the island and insisted that the missiles threatened Turkish Cypriots and upset the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean.

The hope is that the choice of Crete will enable all sides to save face. Greece and Cyprus, linked by a defence pact since 1993, will be able to claim Crete is close enough for the missiles to be used if needed to defend Cyprus, while Turkey will be able to say that its stance forced Athens and Nicosia to back down.