- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2000

NICOSIA, Cyprus Greece and Turkey are beefing up their armed forces at an unprecedented pace while talking about peace and improvements in their relations. Cyprus, especially, has seen an intense buildup on both sides of the U.N.-patrolled Green Line dividing the island into Greek and Turkish sectors.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, however, Tuesday cautiously hailed an agreement made Monday between Turkey and the European Union over the wording of Turkey's "road map" to membership talks as a "step forward."

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels adopted the agreement after changing the wording on Cyprus and the Aegean to meet Turkey's objections that the EU should not link membership to territorial disputes.

Mr. Simitis, however, said under the partnership accord, Turkey still is obligated to settle the dispute over Cyprus, which has been divided between Turkish and Greek Cypriots since 1974 when Turkey invaded the northern third of the island in response to a coup by militant Greek Cypriots seeking union with Greece.

"It is a step forward … but I wouldn't call it a new era," Mr. Simitis said.

The United Nations considers this east Mediterranean island to be one of the world's most heavily militarized areas, home to two sovereign British bases, Turkish and Greek mainland troops and the local armies.

In northern Cyprus, the Turkish armed forces have been boosted to an estimated 36,000 to 38,000 men, and the 14th armored division has received an additional 86 tanks, according to diplomatic sources.

Other Turkish forces include the 28th and 39th infantry divisions, each at two-thirds its normal strength. However, landing craft capable of bringing additional troops are permanently stationed at the Mersin and Iskenderun naval bases on the Turkish coast.

The Turkish Cypriot security force consists of an estimated 4,500 personnel commanded mostly by Turkish senior officers.

The Turkish government and military establishment were annoyed recently by the Greek Cypriot offer to provide a contingent to the planned European Union intervention force. The internationally recognized Greek Cypriot part of Cyprus is a candidate for EU membership.

The Turkish generals see the Greek Cypriot offer as a ploy to obtain European military protection in the event of new conflict in Cyprus. Such a perception apparently resulted in the increase of Turkish manpower and war materiel, including tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers in Cyprus.

The military buildup is taking place regardless of the growing economic crisis, accompanied by strikes and demonstrations, in Turkey. The Istanbul stock exchange plunged 8 percent Monday, while last week foreign firms withdrew an estimated $6 billion worth of investment from Turkey.

According to Aristos Aristotelous, head of the Cyprus Center for Strategic Studies, from the military point of view a massive concentration of men and vehicles in such a small theater of operations as Cyprus "could lead to saturation of the battlefield, causing loss of effectiveness, logistics problems and even huge losses."

The Greek Cypriot army, known as the National Guard, has about 12,000 permanent personnel to be bolstered by an estimated 60,000 reservists.

Greek Cypriot military planning relies heavily on the so-called "defense dogma," linking the island's defenses with those of Greece.

The Greek military contingent in Cyprus, theoretically limited to 950 men, has been beefed up to what some Western embassies estimate at 4,000 personnel.

Greece recently launched a major program known as "Defense Reconstruction Strategy," which includes a streamlining of its armed forces, accompanied by upgrading of its hardware to the tune of $9 billion.

According to the Athens daily Kathimerini, the nature of Greek military preparations will depend "on the threat from Turkey, the unstable environment in the Balkans and Greek obligations to NATO and the EU."

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