ECONOMY

Turkish-Cypriot businessmen fear greater problems if no solution

NICOSIA – Turkish-Cypriot businessmen fear that failure to conclude an agreement on reunification of the divided island will lead to a mass exodus from the cash-strapped Turkish-held north. Unless an accord is forged in the coming weeks, only the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot south will be admitted into the European Union next year, leaving the breakaway state in northern Cyprus out in the cold. «Our main objective is to rejoin the world,» said Ali Erel, president of the local Chamber of Commerce. The breakaway state is recognized only by Turkey, which it relies on for financial support against an international embargo, but is laboring under severe economic difficulties. In less than two years, 13 banks and dozens of other enterprises have collapsed, and the population of 200,000 includes thousands of jobless. More than 20 percent of the active population is employed by the administration of Rauf Denktash, but their salaries are effectively paid by Ankara, which keeps the mini-state’s head above water to the tune of $100 million a year. «If a solution is not found immediately on the basis of the United Nations plan» to bring the two parts of the island together again, «thousands of people will quit the TRNC,» Erel predicted, referring to the breakaway state (the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus). He said that many Turkish Cypriots were obtaining passports of the Republic of Cyprus, which is run by the Greek Cypriots, in order to obtain residence in other EU countries come 2004. In the past two years, tens of thousands have already left to settle abroad, often joining communities already established. Other businessmen said the northern third of the island, invaded and occupied by the Turkish army in 1974 following a coup attempt by Greek Cypriots aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece, was attracting no foreign investment. Not even Turkish investors are interested because of the uncertain future, they said. The result is that average income per head in the north is just $4,000 a year, while it stands at some $15,000 dollars in the south, whose beaches fill with some 2.7 million tourists annually. The north, though at least scenically just as attractive, lacks facilities as well as international links, and has just some 84,000 visitors a year, most of them from Turkey. Ozdil Nami, head of an influential business association, is convinced that if the United Nations plan to make Cyprus a loose federation of two autonomous states linked by some common institutions is rejected by Denktash, it will be the death warrant for his community. «The TRNC may continue to exist, but there will be nobody left to govern,» he predicted, calling on Turkey, which itself is seeking to join the EU, to put pressure on the Turkish-Cypriot leader to sign a plan that he viscerally opposes. Denktash is against the plan because it will mean giving up territory to the majority Greek Cypriots, allowing many of them to return to areas they fled in 1974. And he takes a diametrically opposite view to the business community. «If the plan is accepted as it stands, in five or 10 years there will be no Turks left in Cyprus,» he told journalists Monday, two days before he resumes UN-brokered peace talks with Greek-Cypriot leader Glafcos Clerides. He said demands for an early agreement were only prompted by the economic difficulties, and warned, «the process will be irreversible.»