Turkey-N. Cyprus customs deal

Turkey and the breakaway self-styled «Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus» yesterday signed a customs agreement designed to facilitate exports of Turkish-Cypriot products abroad, despite an international trade embargo on that part of the island. «This agreement will integrate the economy of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus with not only the Turkish economy but the economy of Europe and the world,» Turkey’s Deputy Premier Abdullatif Sener said as he signed the agreement with Serdar Denktash, deputy premier of the breakaway state and son of Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash at the northern town of Kerynia. The Cypriot government reacted angrily to the news. Government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides called the agreement «illegal and a provocation for Europe and the international community.» Turkey has occupied about 37 percent of the island of Cyprus since 1974, when it invaded the island following a short-lived coup by Greek officers and Greek Cypriots favoring union with Greece. The breakaway state, declared in 1983, has been recognized only by Turkey. Consequently, it was the Cypriot government which signed, last April, the accession agreement with the European Union, which it will join in May 2004. The EU expressed its desire for the reunification of the island before that date, but does not see it as a prerequisite to entry. The EU, most of whose officials are on holiday this month, reacted mildly but critically to yesterday’s events. «We believe that we should have been consulted before this agreement was signed,» European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer told Reuters news agency. «We will clearly be checking it with regard to all the association and customs union agreements that we have with Turkey.» Turkey is also a candidate for EU membership, but the EU will not even begin talks unless the Turks fulfill certain conditions. Eventual membership is opposed by many in Europe and is seen as highly unlikely this decade. Despite the obvious legal problems arising, however, Sener was eager to mollify the EU, saying Turkey would submit the agreement, which it called «a framework agreement toward a customs union,» to the EU. Since the breakaway state’s economy is entirely dependent on Turkey’s, yesterday’s agreement will not integrate the economy of the two parties any further. It is seen mainly as a way to skirt the embargo. There were rumors earlier in the day that the agreement would not be signed after all. However, Rauf Denktash is said to have prevailed upon a reluctant Turkish government. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the head of Turkey’s moderate Islamist government has often hinted that he sees Denktash as an obstacle to better relations with the EU. So do many Turkish Cypriots. However, Denktash, with the support of Turkey’s army and elements within the government, has clung on, aware that reunification would end his own role and, perhaps, aware of certain skeletons in his cupboard. Precisely what kind of skeletons was made evident yesterday when a former UN peacekeeper, Karl Lind, told in a letter published in English-language Cyprus Weekly that he was nearby when Turkish Cypriots had executed 16 Greek Cypriots during the Turkish invasion.