TURKEY has protested vigorously against a multi million dollar arms contract signed on Saturday by a Russian state controlled company and the Cyprus government.
The deal involves the purchase of a surface to air missile system with a range of 150 km. The system is expected to be deployed in the foothills of the Trodos Mountains to provide protection for air and naval bases now under construction on the west coast.
This is the second arms deal concluded recently by Russia and Cyprus; the first order of T80 U tanks and BMP armoured vehicles was delivered last autumn, despite Turkish threats to bomb ships carrying the consignment to the divided island. Turkey has again threatened a pre emptive strike against the missile sites.
Russia and Cyprus have gone ahead with the controversial deal despite calls last month by both the British Foreign Secretary, Mr Malcolm Rifkind, and the UN Security Council to parties in Cyprus's long running dispute to end arms build up and run down troop levels on the island. These appeals fell on deaf ears.
Turkey continues to maintain 35,000 troops and 350 tanks in the third of the island Ankara has occupied since 1974. The Republic insists it must improve the defensive capacity of its 10,000 strong National Guard, which has 150 tanks, by introducing new weaponry and implementing its defence pact with Greece.
As part of this pact, Athens has warned Ankara that any advance of Turkish troops on Cyprus would amount to a castis belli and produce an all out war between Greece and Turkey.
The killing of four Greek Cypriots on the dividing Green Line and repeated firing from Turkish positions into Greek Cypriot neighbourhoods during the past year have made the Cyprus government determined to proceed with its weapons purchases.
A Cyprus government official told The Irish Times that the arms programme was also intended to capture "the attention" of the world community, to encourage it to redouble efforts to achieve the reunification of the island in accordance with the UN plan for a bizonal, bicommunal federation.
The arms race and the beginning of talks on the accession of Cyprus to the EU, due to begin next January, have made 1997 "the year of the big push" for a Cyprus settlement, according to observers.
Eight separate mediators have been working for the implementation of the UN plan, but unless the mediators make progress in peace talks, Cyprus can be expected to continue the arms build up.