Cyprus and France sign military cooperation deal

2nd March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 2, 2007 (AFP) - Cyprus and France signed a comprehensive military cooperation accord covering joint manoeuvres and military training, officials in Nicosia and Paris said, drawing condemnation from Turkey.

PARIS, March 2, 2007 (AFP) - Cyprus and France signed a comprehensive military cooperation accord covering joint manoeuvres and military training, officials in Nicosia and Paris said, drawing condemnation from Turkey.

The deal between the two EU members was signed in the French capital by Cypriot Foreign Minister George Lillikas and French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie on Wednesday, according to a Cypriot government statement issued a day later.

"We are often faced with common dangers, such as terrorism which concerns all European countries and which we have to tackle," the statement quoted Alliot-Marie as saying at the signing ceremony.

"It is an ordinary agreement which we have with a number of countries but we did not have with Cyprus."

She said the accord would give France sea protection against illegal immigration, "one of our most important problems" and "illegal trade."

Alliot-Marie said the need to sign such a bilateral agreement was prompted by help given to French troops by Cyprus during the evacuation of French nationals from war-torn Lebanon in mid-2006.

"This situation was one in which we saw military cooperation between the two countries increase," she said.

Turkey immediately denounced the accord, saying it would undermine international efforts to resolve the three-decade Cyprus conflict.

The foreign ministry in Ankara described the accord as "worrying".

It protested that the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government did not represent the whole island, in whose northern third Turkish Cypriots maintain a breakaway statelet.

"This agreement will further encourage the intransigent stance of the Greek Cypriots and seriously damage efforts for a comprehensive settlement" to end the island's division, the statement said.

"The Greek Cypriot administration ... continues to be a source of instability in the region," it said.

The accord will bear no consequences for Turkey and the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara, it added.

Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974 when Turkey occupied the Turkish Cypriot north in response to an Athens-engineered Greek Cypriot coup in Nicosia aimed at uniting the Mediterranean island with Greece.

Cyprus' division remains a major stumbling block for Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

Few details were given about the agreement, but the Cypriot Phileleftheros newspaper on Thursday said it included the training of Cypriot officers at top French military academies, joint army exercises, exchange of information and providing naval protection against illegal immigration.

Cyprus is viewed as the European Union's easternmost outpost in the fight against illegal immigration from the Middle East and Asia.

The French military would also be given access to an air base in the west coast town of Paphos as a logistics hub, said Phileleftheros.

France used the Andreas Papandreou base to ferry French nationals out of Beirut last year.

The Lebanon conflict proved how important Cyprus was to the EU as a strategic post in the Middle East, and France is seen to be taking advantage of the island's location by boosting bilateral ties.

French foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said the agreement was a "framework for bilateral actions, some of which are already being undertaken by the two countries and which are normal between European Union countries, such as mutual visits and the exchange of experiences and know-how."

The accord was also close to those signed with other EU members and consistent with UN resolutions on the island nation.

Diplomats said Turkey and other EU partners had been told about the agreement beforehand. It must still be ratified by the Cypriot parliament.

Commentators say the agreement is the most comprehensive Cyprus has signed with any other country apart from close ally Greece.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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