The UN Security Council on Thursday again demanded that Turkey and Turkish Cypriots immediately reverse all actions to reopen the abandoned resort of Varosha and backed further talks “in the near future” on reunifying the divided Mediterranean island.
In a resolution adopted unanimously extending the UN peacekeeping mission in Cyprus for six months, the council stressed “the need to avoid any unilateral action that could trigger tensions on the island and undermine the prospects for a peaceful settlement.”
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. Cyprus is a member of the European Union but the breakaway north is only recognized by Turkey, which is not an EU member.
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 October when Turkish and Turkish Cypriot authorities announced its “reopening.”
Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar followed up with an announcement on July 20 that a 3.5 square-kilometer (1.35 square-mile) section of Varosha 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.
The Security Council resolution reiterated that “no actions should be carried out in relation to Varosha” that violate 1984 and 1992 resolutions calling for its transfer to UN administration – which has not happened – and saying any attempts to settle any part of Varosha “by people other than its inhabitants” is “inadmissible.”
The council issued a presidential statement on Varosha on July 23, a step below a resolution, which is legally binding.
Varosha’s former residents have denounced the latest move 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.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres held informal talks with Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders in Geneva in April,. Those failed to make headway on the island’s future, but the UN chief said talks will continue and “I do not give up.”
Both Turkey’s Erdogan and Turkish Cypriot leader 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 with political equality.
The Security Council on Thursday noted “with regret that sufficient common ground could not be found at the [April] meeting to allow for the resumption of formal negotiations at this time.” But it “fully” supported the secretary-general’s ongoing efforts “and the agreement by the parties to convene a further round of informal talks in the near future.”
The council reiterated the importance of all participants approaching these talks “in the spirit of openness, flexibility and compromise and to show the necessary political will and commitment to freely negotiate a mutually acceptable settlement under United Nations auspices.”
On another contentious issue, oil and gas exploration in eastern Mediterranean waters that Cyprus claims as its own, the Security Council noted “the easing of tensions” over hydrocarbons, underlined that disputes should be solved peacefully, and called on Greek and Turkish Cypriots “to refrain from any actions and rhetoric that might damage the settlement process.”
The council said it remains convinced “of the many important benefits, including economic benefits, for all Cypriots and the wider region that would flow from a comprehensive and durable settlement.”
The UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus, known as UNFICYP, was originally established by the council in 1964 to prevent further fighting between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. After the 1974 Turkish invasion, it took on other duties including supervising cease-fire lines, maintaining a buffer zone and undertaking humanitarian activities.
The resolution extends the mandate of the more than 1,000-strong peacekeeping mission until Jan. 31, 2022.
It expresses “serious concern at the continued violations of the military status quo along the cease-fire lines, the reported encroachment by both sides into the buffer zone and the risks associated, and the increase in unauthorized construction.”
Cyprus’s UN Ambassador Andreas Hadjichrysanthou called UNFICYP “indispensable” and welcomed the resolution’s reiteration of “the grave and dangerous” situation in Varosha and the call for UN peacekeepers to be allowed there.
He said Cyprus is ready to resume negotiations on the basis of a bi-communal bi-zonal federation with political equality which it remains convinced “addresses the concerns of all Cypriots in a reunited independent Cyprus without external interference.” [AP]