Turks hail aid to Turk-Cypriots

ANKARA/ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkey yesterday welcomed EU plans to lift decades-long economic sanctions on the breakaway Turkish statelet in northern Cyprus and called for transport links for the proposals to be fully implemented. «We see the draft (proposals) as a very important step… toward ending the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots,» the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Among the proposals, unveiled by the European Commission, the EU executive arm, are a 259-million-euro aid package for the Turkish Cypriots, which has already been given the green light by EU member states. The proposals also foresee ending a trade embargo on Turkish-Cypriot goods – allowing Turkish Cypriots to export their produce to the EU under preferential terms – despite a threat of legal action from the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot south of the island. EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said the proposals were a just reward after Turkish Cypriots voted overwhelmingly in April in favor of a UN plan to end the 30-year division of Cyprus. The Greek Cypriots turned down the plan, ensuring that they alone joined the EU on May 1. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said that should the proposals come into force, it was up to the European Commission and EU members states to take the necessary steps for the implementation of the measures, such as transport links. «Turkey will closely follow the adoption and implementation of the draft,» the statement said. Also yesterday, Turkish Cypriot political leader Mehmet Ali Talat welcomed EU plans to lift trade sanctions imposed on his breakaway statelet, but went on to call for direct air links. «I need to study the proposals, but I can say this is an opening,» Talat told reporters in Istanbul. «It means in a way that trade restriction would be lifted, which was our expectation… This should be viewed as a step forward. «Direct flights are still a problem,» he added. «But they (the EU) are working on this issue as well,» he said.