Cyprus to shorten compulsory army service
The Cypriot cabinet agreed Thursday to reduce national service for conscripts from 24 months to 14, in the biggest reform of the military in decades on the divided Mediterranean island.
The change comes after Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and the leader of the breakaway state in northern Cyprus Mustafa Akinci said last month that a deal was possible this year to end the island’s four-decade division.
Long-stalled UN-brokered peace talks, which many observers see as the best chance to reunify the EU state, were relaunched last May.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in January that he believes a Cyprus settlement “is within reach”.
Compulsory service in the Greek Cypriot National Guard at 24 months is one of the longest in the world.
Greek Cypriot parents have long criticised the length of time served, saying it interrupts further education and career prospects of their sons.
Reducing army service was an election pledge by Anastasiades when coming to power in March 2013.
“An important target is close to completion,” Anastasiades wrote on Twitter on Thursday, while Finance Minister Harris Georgiades added: “We are moving forward!”
A bill will now be tabled before parliament for the legislation to be approved and it is expected to be voted through later this year.
Those who enlisted last summer will do 18 months instead of 24 while those who are inducted after the summer of 2016 will only serve 14 months.
Defense Minister Christoforos Fokaides told reporters that the move was “the first step towards creating a professional army” as part of wide-ranging reforms.
”It is not a move that will weaken our defenses.”
Cyprus is often described as one of the most militarised places on earth with the presence of UN peacekeepers, Turkish occupation troops, two sovereign British bases and a Greek army contingent.
The island has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.
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