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    Greek Cypriots to hold exercise despite Turk objection

    Hurriyet English with wires
    30.05.2008 - 10:41 | Son Güncelleme:

    Greek Cypriots will go ahead with a conflict-relief exercise joined by Greek and French forces, despite objections from Turkish Cypriots, the Greek Cypriot government said on Thursday.

    Senior Foreign Ministry official Phaedon Anastasiou said the June 2-6 "Argonaut" exercise will focus on assisting a mass influx of civilians fleeing conflict.   

    Anastasiou said Greek and French warships will take part in evacuation drills, and denied it was part of joint military maneuvers.

    "This exercise is part of the Foreign Ministry's crisis management plan to provide humanitarian assistance to civilians fleeing a crisis," Anastasiou was quoted by the AP as saying.    

    Tens of thousands of civilians fled from Lebanon to Cyprus two years ago to escape Israeli attacks on that country, the AP reported.

    Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Turgay Avci urged on Wednesday France to pull out of the exercise, saying France's participation in the exercises can not be seen as a sign of goodwill at a time when France is preparing to take over the EU presidency and when a negotiation process is under way in Cyprus.

    Avci called on Paris to "carefully review" its decision.

    Anastasiou said military involvement was necessary because of the need to respond rapidly to a large-scale humanitarian crisis.

    The exercise will also involve search and rescue operations and anti-terrorism drills, including a scenario in which terrorists seize a refugee ship.

    Cyprus and France signed a defense cooperation pact in January 2007.

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