Turks rattle scimitar as Europe puts out welcome mat for Cyprus

Click to follow
The Independent Online
TURKEY accused the EU yesterday of helping to escalate military tension in the eastern Mediterranean after a ceremony in Brussels marked the formal opening of membership talks with the divided island of Cyprus.

As 26 European foreign ministers representing the Union's present and future members gathered to launch the negotiations, Greek Cypriots were in celebratory mood.

Bouzouki music wafted out of a Cypriot marquee in front of EU headquarters while the members of the public queued for samples of "Cypriot delight" and "Aphrodite" wine from the island's Paphos region.

But in the Turkish capital, Ankara, the move to bestow EU member-in-waiting status on Cyprus was greeted as a provocation which will cement the partition of the island and increase the threat of military conflict. Furious at being sidelined in its own EU membership bid, Turkey has warned that it will complete the annexation of northern Cyprus; the Turkish Cypriots have pulled out of UN-sponsored peace talks in protest. Voicing the anger of a nation which has not been put on the same footing as Romania, or Slovakia, Turkey's Foreign Minister, Ismail Cem, said: "The fact that the EU is treating the Greek-Cypriot administration as the representative of the whole island constitutes the first step towards escalation in the eastern Mediterranean which could be very dangerous."

In menacing terms Mr Cem added: "No one should be in any doubt about the fact that military agreements exist between us (Turkey and northern Cyprus) parallel to those between Greece and the Greek-Cypriot administration. Our enemies as well as our friends should be aware of this."

In Brussels the British EU presidency said the offer of places for Turkish- Cypriot representatives in Nicosia's negotiating team remained open. And Cypriot negotiators, who begin detailed talks with a special EU expansion task force today, denied intending a provocation.

"We cannot under any circumstances accept that opening EU negotiations is an aggravation. This will benefit all of Cyprus," said Giorgos Vassiliou, the chief negotiator.

The crisis over Cyprus may overshadow negotiations for the five most advanced Central and Eastern European states which begin in detail today.

Negotiators from Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovenia will be given full details of the demands they must comply with to be admitted early in the next century.

Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, chairing the two-day launch, said the meeting was a milestone. "We are finally overcoming the cruel and unnatural division of our continent" he said.