NEWS

Bill for Cyprus land

NICOSIA (AFP) – The breakaway Turkish-Cypriot administration has drafted a bill aimed at accelerating the settlement of property disputes with Greek Cypriots, the Turkish-Cypriot press reported yesterday. Property issues are among the most contentious disputes on an island that has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkey seized and occupied the north in response to a Greek coup aiming to unite Cyprus with Greece. Greek Cypriots living in the north moved south and Turkish Cypriots went in the opposite direction, with both communities abandoning their properties. Displaced Greek Cypriots outnumbered Turkish Cypriots by around four to one. The bill would replace a 2003 law that foresees compensation for Greek Cypriots who abandoned property in the north, but has drawn much criticism for being inefficient and failing to curb a flood of Greek-Cypriot applications to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The bill allows Greek Cypriots to seek both compensation and the return of their properties, the daily Kibris reported. But it sets tight conditions on what properties can be handed back outright: The land should be neither owned nor used by anyone and its return should endanger neither national security nor public order or interest. Legal experts said very few properties qualify. The Turkish-Cypriot authorities nationalized all land and property that belonged to Greek Cypriots before 1974; most of it is currently occupied, having been distributed to Turkish Cypriots who fled from the south. The bill says at least two foreign nationals should sit on the commission that would rule on the claims. Media reports say the Turkish-Cypriot government is under pressure from Ankara to seek a more efficient way of resolving the property disputes. The Strasbourg-based ECHR ordered Turkey in 1998 to pay a hefty compensation to a Greek-Cypriot woman for depriving her of her property rights and Ankara worries that the number of such cases could rapidly increase. A UN peace plan aimed at ending Cyprus’s division failed in April 2004 when the Greek Cypriots voted it down, even though the Turkish Cypriots gave it overwhelming support.