Cyprus has stopped 18 "foreign fighters"
Cyprus has sent 18 so called foreign fighters back to their home countries, the Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary Alexandros Zenon told CNA on Thursday.
Zenon said that the foreign fighters, who were arrested, had plans to cross into the Turkish occupied areas, to head to Turkey and then to Syria, join the so called Islamic State.
The Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary noted that many countries, including Cyprus, are also in very close cooperation to prevent terrorist actions in European and other cities, adding that, as a result, many terrorist attacks have been prevented in several countries. Fifty such attempts were prevented in a country where a terrorist incident took place recently, he added.
Referring to the trilateral cooperation which Cyprus and Greece have with countries in the region, Zenon noted that “our mid-term and long-term goal is to establish a forum for dialogue, consultations and cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East region, which will contribute to the promotion of stability, security and prosperity,” stressing however that political problems must be solved and political conditions must become mature for this to happen.
As regards Brexit, Zenon said that “we will be ready to promote our positions once real negotiations get underway.” Furthermore he noted that after the result of the referendum in the UK in favour of Brexit, Cyprus is considering, despite any difficulties which may exist, to officially express its interest to host the headquarters of the European Medicines Agency, which are currently located in London.
“We are looking into the various technical and financial aspects of the issue. There are difficulties. These organizations must be easily accessible to people who travel from continental Europe countries,” he said, noting that such organizations receive a large number of visitors every day.
“This is a major investment. We have to evaluate all issues, the required infrastructure, the connectivity with the rest of Europe and other parameters,” he added.
Referring to the battle against terrorism, Zenon underlined the importance of prevention, noting that “due to our geographical position we are in close cooperation with various security and intelligence services of countries in our neighbourhood and beyond that.”
He added that this cooperation “has been quite effective, since we have sent back to their countries of origin more than 18 so-called foreign fighters who wanted to pass to the occupied areas of our country, in order to go to Turkey and then to Syria to join the forces of the so called Islamic State.”
Zenon said that these people were bearers of European passports and came to Cyprus from Western countries, and that these events took place in 2015. As he noted, it seems that these so called foreign-fighters have stopped using this route, because on one hand Turkey has become stricter and does not want them to pass through its territory, and on the other hand it has been proven that Cyprus is not a country via which these people can easily travel to Syria.
Recalling that the British Bases in Cyprus have been used by the UK for launching operations against the Islamic State, and that Cyprus offers facilities to countries that participate in the fight against terrorism, Zenon said that the international community has recognised the island’s role in combating this global threat.
He noted that Cyprus has good relations with countries in its region, and can be useful both for them and the EU, maintaining at the same time its reliability.
Zenon also elaborated on Cyprus` actions with a view to effectively address the issues that have come up due to Brexit, noting that the Foreign Ministry Task Force that was set up to deal with Brexit has already reached certain conclusions, while a Ministerial Committee was established to politically guide negotiations. Moreover the private sector got engaged in this endeavour, he added.
The Permanent Secretary said that, in view of Brexit, Cyprus and the UK will hold bilateral consultations with a view to reach an arrangement regarding the British Bases in Cyprus, which will be ratified during negotiations between the EU and the UK. He stressed that the Cyprus government is aiming to ensure that the rights of the inhabitants and the employees at the Bases will remain unaffected.
He also referred to Cypriots who live and work in the UK, but do not have the British citizenship, noting that “our efforts aim to secure that that they will not be negatively affected.” Furthermore, he said that Cyprus is holding consultations with other countries which have traditional and historic bonds with the UK, as Malta and Ireland, looking together with them into any possible arrangements that need to be made.
Zenon noted that, due to the specific relations which Cyprus has with the UK, there are certain issues which particularly affect the island, and competent ministries are looking into them, in cooperation with the Law Office of the Republic.
Referring to Cyprus' EU membership, Zenon said that as an equal partner, the country is actively engaged in all EU activities and consultations on all issues, expressing well-founded positions. He cited the example of the sanctions imposed due to the issue of Crimea, noting that Cyprus expressed modest views, contributing to the adoption of rational and balanced positions by the EU.
Moreover he noted that the trilateral cooperation which Cyprus and Greece have developed with countries in the region, as Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel, has been facilitating the dialogue between these countries and the EU.
Zenon noted that Cyprus and Greece are two EU member states which, due to their geographical position, their tradition and their mentality, are in a position to better understand the problems which countries in their neighbourhood face. “And all these countries see us as a distinguished interlocutor who understands them and can convey some of their concerns and messages to the EU and this is what we are doing,” he added.
He went on to say that Cyprus also discusses separately certain issues with each of these countries. For example, he added, Lebanon asked Cyprus to help him upgrade and harmonize its products with the European standards, so that the country can export them more easily to the EU.
At the same time, he noted, “there are certain issues which concern all of these countries as energy, combating terrorism and security.”
Zenon said that Cyprus’ stabilising role in the region, through this network of cooperation schemes, is being recognised by the EU and its member states, and by countries beyond the Atlantic Ocean as well.
In addition, Zenon noted that some other EU countries, as Malta, Italy, France and Spain, which are not part of these trilateral cooperation schemes are on the same wavelength with Cyprus and Greece, and recalled that both the trilateral cooperation schemes and the group of the seven southern EU countries were set up at the initiative of Cyprus.
Asked about the opening of new Embassies of Cyprus abroad, Zenon recalled that some embassies were closed in 2013, due to the financial crisis, noting that during the last years the Republic opened an Embassy in Saudi Arabia, an Embassy in Ottawa last year, and will now re-open its Embassy in Prague.