The remains of 16 Greek soldiers who died as their plane was hit by friendly fire in Nicosia during the ongoing Turkish invasion in July 1974, returned home on Tuesday.

The Greek state welcomed the 31 coffins of the remains of the soldiers who flew home onto a C-130 transport plane that landed at the Dhekelia air base at Tatoi, flanked by two Mirage 2000 which made formations.

President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos, Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament Nicos Voutsis, National Defence Minister Panos Kammenos and Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Amanatides welcomed the remains that were handed to the Greek government earlier Tuesday by the Cyprus government in a ceremony in Nicosia. Relatives gathered at the base to finally take their loved ones home for burial.

Noratlas was one of several Greek air force planes sent to Cyprus to help fight the advancing Turkish troops that invaded the island on 20th July 1974. It was hit by friendly fire and 31 commandos and air force crew were killed. Only one officer survived but passed away last month. The aircraft and the remains were unearthed earlier this year. The remains were identified through the DNA method.

At a ceremony Tuesday, President Nicos Anastasiades issued an apology for the incident and the delay in unearthing and handing the remains.

In a speech, President Pavlopoulos pledged that in memory of the fallen soldiers, the struggle to free Cyprus will continue to the end, so that Cyprus can finally find its territorial integrity, full sovereignty, with respect to the acquis communautaire and international decisions, a solution where there is no room for occupation troops and guarantees.

He criticised the international community for tolerating the clear violation of UN decisions, remaining a mere observer, while the EU tolerates occupation and a system of guarantees in the territory of one of its member states, something that shows that European democracy is clearly lacking.

“Honouring the memory of these heroic fallen (soldiers), Greeks and Cypriots we are committed to fight until the end, without concessions, without conceding, so that long-suffering Cyprus will find again its territorial integrity and its full sovereignty, through a solution that will respect the utmost the international law and acquis communautaire, since Cyprus is a complete and equal member of the EU and the Eurozone”, he remarked.

A solution that under no circumstances will be compatible with a trace of occupation troops or any anachronistic guarantees, the Greek President said and called on the international community and the EU, “in memory of the dead, to undertake their responsibilities”.

Greek Defence Minister Kammenos said the 16 officers sacrificed their lives for the ideals of freedom and apologized to the relatives of the fallen for the pain of waiting all these years.

Cypriot Defence Minister Christoforos Fokaides said the return of the heroes to Greece is a solemn moment, describing them immortal. He apologized to the relatives for the great delay in locating the remains in Cyprus.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37% of its territory. President Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have been engaged in UN-led talks since May last year with a view to reunite the island under a federal roof.

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