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Defence minister confident of ‘responsible’ parties supporting military service cut (Updated)

Defence Minister Christophoros Fokaides

Defence Minister Christophoros Fokaides voiced his certainty on Wednesday that political parties would display the necessary sense of responsibility and allow the reduction of military service to go ahead in the next few months.
The cut in military service was announced by the government last week amid a chorus of disapproval over its timing from opposition parties that were caught unawares.
The government said it will cut military service from 24 to 14 months starting in 2017. But this can only happen if parliament approves some €33mln to pay for the recruitment of 3,000 professional soldiers to replace the conscripts.
“I am certain that all political forces will display the necessary responsibility so that we can immediately proceed with the implementation of the plan,” Fokaides said on Wednesday after briefing DISY chief Averof Neophytou.
Opposition parties have criticised the government for not informing them before making the announcement. They charged that it was an election ploy ahead of May’s parliamentary elections and questioned the efficacy of the endeavour.
The reduction of military service is part of a wider modernisation plan, which includes restructuring units and procuring new armaments.
“It is a significant reform that will give the National Guard new capabilities and means,” the minister said. He added that the National Guard would evolve into a modern semi-professional army.
Neophytou said his only problem was that he state had delayed 15 years in taking the decision.
“The issue of reducing the service was discussed for the first time 15 years ago,” he said.
“All parties were in favour and for 15 years they did not dear take the decision. At last we are turning words into action.”
Neophytou said the state must now move quickly to ensure 3,000 professionals were recruited in time. The professional soldiers must be recruited by the fourth quarter of the year.
Opposition DIKO suggested that the decision could not be implemented within the timeframe set by the defence ministry.
DIKO said it was especially concerned because experts, including military chiefs, could not see it happening.
“We hope that the government’s decision was not only an election expediency because there is the possibility of our youth serving much longer instead of being discharged in January 2017,” the party said. “We hope the administration is not playing political games with our soldiers’ feelings.”
The minister later briefed AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou who expressed reservations.
As a matter of principle, AKEL was unreservedly in favour of a reduction in military service, Kyprianou said.
“We have our reservations concerning the time chosen to put this matter up for discussion,” he added. “You realise this is the worst period to make such important decisions.”
Kyprianou said the party wanted to see the document on which the cabinet’s decision had been based.
“And we are interested in the prospect of solving the Cyprus problem. I want to be clear on this issue, and we are concerned over decisions made by the government that could cause complications in this effort.”

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