NICOSIA (AFP) – US businesspeople arrived in the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus yesterday to explore opportunities, prompting a formal protest from the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government. The visit was hailed by Turkish Cypriots as a landmark step toward breaking their isolation. But it irked the Greek Cypriots, who want to see the north remain under international sanctions imposed over its secession. The delegation, accompanied by the trade attache from the US Embassy in Turkey, was to meet with Turkish-Cypriot entrepreneurs before leaving later in the day. The United States has pledged to support Turkish-Cypriot businesses as a reward for a «yes» vote northerners gave last April to a UN plan to end Cyprus’s 30-year division. The plan was killed off by a strong «no» in a simultaneous referendum in the Greek-Cypriot south. Washington has allocated $30.5 million to assist the development of Turkish-Cypriot businesses and help narrow the wide gap between the northern and southern economies. The head of the Turkish-Cypriot Trade Chamber, Ali Erel, hailed the visit as «a milestone» of economic and political significance. «Cooperation with US companies, the presence of US brands here will have a great influence on the Greek Cypriots,» Erel told Turkey’s NTV television. «It is important to motivate the Greek Cypriots toward a settlement in Cyprus.» The Greek-Cypriot government objects to the visit because the businessmen were accompanied by a US diplomat who was entering Cyprus through an «illegal port» in the north, spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides said in remarks published yesterday in the Cyprus Mail newspaper. Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos denounced the visit, saying it did nothing to enhance Cyprus-US relations or sow the seeds of reunification. His government has officially protested to Washington over the visit. «Such actions provoke the feelings of the Cypriot people and do not contribute anything in improving relations between Cyprus and the USA,» Papadopoulos told reporters before leaving for Malta. «It does everything but create the necessary climate for efforts to reunite the island,» he added. The Turkish Cypriots have long been seen as an obstacle to any settlement on Cyprus, but last year’s referendum shifted some of the onus to the Greek side. The failure of the UN plan ensured that only the Greek-Cypriot part of the island joined the European Union on May 1. Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered military coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.