NICOSIA – Cyprus apologized to Greece on Oct. 4 as it handed over the remains of 16 Greek commandos who were killed by “friendly fire” during Turkey’s 1974 invasion of the island.
The soldiers were on board a French-built Noratlas transport aircraft that was headed to Nicosia airport to reinforce the Greek Cypriot National Guard when it was mistaken for a Turkish bomber and shot down.
Of the 32 people on board, just one survived.
During the fog of battle in the unlawful invasion that saw Turkish troops occupy the still-held northern third of the island, the bodies of 15 of the commandos were buried in a mass grave inside the aircraft.
The Cyprus government launched a search for the gravesite in February 2014 after the families of two of the dead appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
It was located in August last year and a painstaking 14-month exhumation operation ensued to recover the remains.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades apologized both for the anti-aircraft fire that killed the soldiers and for the decades of delay in returning their bodies, Agence France Presse reported.
“For mistakes made by the Cypriot state I must express my deepest apology to all those hurt,” Anastasiades said at a memorial ceremony in Nicosia. He said it was an “unforgivable mistake made in the confusion of battle.”
The bodies of 16 of the dead were recovered later and buried in a military cemetery outside Nicosia and remains taken back to Greece in 1979 but some were misidentified in an embarrassing mixup.
The remains of one of those wrongly identified were handed over together with those of the 15 exhumed this year, AFP said.