The remains of 16 Greek soldiers who were killed during the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus and of one soldier who was killed on board the vessel Fatehon in 1964 when the Turkish air force bombed and sank the ship were returned on Friday.
A special church ceremony to mark the return took place in Nicosia.
The remains were identified through DNA tests. Of these, seven cases were identified through the exhumation and identification programme of the Republic in in the government-controlled areas, and the other 10 cases were identified through the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP).
Three of the Greek nationals were on board the Noratlas aircraft which was hit by friendly fire in Nicosia during the Turkish invasion.
The relatives of the 17 soldiers attended the mass and were honoured by President Nicos Anastasiades. The Greek government was represented by the Defence Minister Panos Kammenos.
In his address Anastasiades expressed Cyprus’ deep gratitude to the fallen and their relatives. “They sacrificed their lives for the country and this sacrifice gives us the right today to carry on the struggle to reunite our country and free Cyprus of the Turkish occupying troops,” he said.
Anastasiades acknowledged past mistakes in the procedures followed to identify remains of missing persons and for this reason he wanted to convey his apologies to the relatives.
He said that the was making every effort to identify the fate of missing persons, both in the meetings with the Turkish Cypriot leader and on an international level.
But he added, Turkey’s stance was hindering efforts, and he called on Ankara to grant permission for excavations in military zones. He also referred to the issue of the transfer of human remains to other sites from the ones where they were buried.
Greek Cypriot member of the CMP Nestoras Nestoros said that once the missing Greeks’ remains were identified, the relatives were informed by the CMP. He said the work would continue, despite the problems.