A proposed UN Security Council statement would call on Turkey and breakaway Turkish Cypriots to reverse a decision to reopen a residential section of an abandoned suburb and avoid any unilateral actions that could raise tensions on the divided Mediterranean island.
The 15 nations on the UN’s most powerful body were expected to consider the British-drafted statement Wednesday night, and if there are no objections it could be approved on Thursday.
The statement followed a closed-door briefing to the council Wednesday by the outgoing UN special representative that focused on Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar’s announcement Tuesday that a 3.5 square-kilometer (1.35 square-mile) section of the Varosha suburb would revert from military to civilian control. He made it ahead of a military parade attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to commemorate the 47th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.
The island was divided into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south in 1974 following Turkey’s invasion which was triggered by a coup aimed at Cyprus’ union with Greece.
Numerous rounds of UN mediated talks aimed at reuniting Cyprus have ended in failure, with the last push for a peace deal in July 2017 ending in acrimony. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres held informal talks with Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders in Geneva in April which failed to make headway on the island’s future but the UN chief said talks will continue, and “I do not give up.”
Varosha is a suburb of Famagusta, a city that was Cyprus’ pre-1974 tourism hub thanks to its pristine beaches and modern hotels. After Varosha’s 15,000 Greek Cypriot residents fled in the face of advancing Turkish troops, the area was fenced-off to prevent any access until last year when Turkish and Turkish Cypriot authorities announced its “re-opening.”
Varosha’s former residents denounced the latest move by Turkish Cypriots and Turkey as a bid to take advantage of their desperation over the area’s future and to psychologically pressure them into selling off their properties. Many Turkish Cypriots also condemned the move as undermining ongoing efforts at reconciliation between the two communities.
The proposed Security Council presidential statement would reiterate “that no actions should be carried out in relation to Varosha that are not in accordance with its resolutions.”
A May 11, 1984 resolution says the Security Council “considers any attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of that area to the administration of the United Nations.” A September 14, 1992 resolution reiterates that to implement the 1984 resolution the area under control of the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus should “be extended to include Varosha.”
The draft presidential statement stresses the importance of implementing council resolutions “including the transfer of Varosha to UN administration.”
It would also express “deep concern” at Tuesday’s announcement “on the reopening of an area constituting 3.4% of the fenced-off area of Varosha and the resettlement of this same area.”
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades called the move a veiled bid by Turkish Cypriots, backed by Turkey, to acquire more territory that could scuttle peace efforts and a violation of council resolutions prohibiting any change to the coastal area’s status.
Anastasiades heads Cyprus’ internationally recognized government in the south, which is a member of the European Union, unlike Turkey.
Both Erdogan and Tatar have said a permanent peace in Cyprus can only come through the international community’s recognition of two separate states, upending decades of negotiations to reach a federation-based reunification accord.
The draft presidential statement would reaffirm the Security Council’s commitment “to an enduring, comprehensive and just settlement in accordance with the wishes of the Cypriot people, and based on a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality, as set out in relevant Security Council resolutions.”
Early this year, secretary-general Guterres said the Covid-19 pandemic has widened longstanding fractures within and between the island’s two communities. He also pointed to rising tensions in the eastern Mediterranean region over exploration for oil and gas and delineating maritime boundaries.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Wednesday that Guterres is “deeply concerned” about the Turkish Cypriot announcement on Varosha.
The UN chief “has repeatedly called on all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that provoke tensions and may compromise the ongoing efforts to seek common ground between the parties towards a lasting settlement of the Cyprus issue,” he said.
Haq said the UN position on Varosha is unchanged and follows Security Council resolutions.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Wednesday reiterated Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s appeal Tuesday to Turkish Cypriots and Turkey to reverse the decision on Varosha.
Price called their actions “provocative and unacceptable and incompatible with their past commitments to engage constructively in settlement talks.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell reaffirmed the bloc’s commitment Tuesday to reunification based on “a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality.”