The armament programme of the Republic of Cyprus will always continue as part of strengthening the country’s deterrent power, President Nikos Christodoulides said on Friday.

He was speaking during a visit to Katsani camp in Stavrovouni, headquarters of the 33rd Commando Squadron.

Addressing the soldiers, the president said he was well aware of the issues that exist within the National Guard, pledging to keep the promises he made during his election campaign, specifically to improve employment conditions within the army.

“I know that in essence you receive state education and I know that due to the circumstances of your recruitment a significant number of you leave and go to the private sector,” he said.

“I would like to promise that one of the first issues on the defence minister’s agenda, and on our agenda as a government, will be the conditions of your employment, so that we can avoid losing so many people, women and men, to whom we invest daily”.

During his visit, the president laid a wreath at the memorial to fallen commandos and observed a minute’s silence in memory of the fallen.

He was then given a tour of the site and watched military exercises by the commandos.

Katsani camp, Stavrovouni, commandos, commandoes

(Photo: Christos Theodorides)

Afterwards, the commander of the camp awarded the president an honorary plaque, with Christodoulides saying that “just like the first days of our governance, our contact both with the 33rd Commando Squadron, and with all units of the National Guard in general, will be consistent”.

Confirming a journalist’s comment that his priorities were set as the Cyprus issue, Education, and Defence, the president said that he wanted to send a message about his new government.

“But first, let me say that we are proud of our commandos, we are proud of the valour of our National Guard, an effort that began many years ago, as I want to publicly acknowledge what has already been done,” he said.

The president added that very important work has been done in recent years, especially in the field of the republic’s armament programmes, which have always aimed towards increasing the country’s deterrent power.

“With my presence here I would like to send the message that we acknowledge the efforts that have already been made, which will be further bolstered,” he said.

“We are an occupied country, and as long as there are occupying forces on our homeland, we will be required to increase our deterrent power,” the president said, adding that as an EU state, Cyprus will be at the core of developing defense strategies for the whole of the union.

“After all, having served as foreign minister I am aware that without a strong defence, foreign policy discourse is clearly limited,” the president added.

The recent US decision to completely lift the US embargo is also particularly important, he said, “a decision we will take advantage of, which also reflects the level of our relations with the US, and the role we are trying to play in the region”.

The president also said that one of the main pillars of the republic’s cooperation with other states, such as Greece, whether at the tripartite or multilateral level, is also based on the exercises that take place within the same framework.

Christodoulides also expressed the political will to further deepen relations with states such as France, adding however that he could not share much detail about any other pending agreements, because in the defence sector “what matters is substance, rather than public statements”.

Asked whether the armament programme will continue, he said that it would continue to take up 2 per cent of the country’s GDP.