Deal reached to exhume mass graves in Cyprus

NICOSIA (AFP) – A breakthrough agreement was reached Thursday to proceed with full-scale exhumations of more than 2,000 people who disappeared as a result of conflict on the divided island of Cyprus, a UN-led committee said. The deal marks the first time that both the Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot communities have banded together after decades of bickering to close one of the most painful chapters in the history of conflict between the two sides. Some 1,586 Greek Cypriots have been missing since the 1974 Turkish invasion of the island and 500 Turkish Cypriots unaccounted for since the outbreak of intercommunal fighting in 1963. The UN-led Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) said full exhumations will begin after an anthropological laboratory is established in the UN-controlled buffer zone in Nicosia as a first step to gathering and assembling remains from mass graves prior to formal identification through DNA analysis. «The location of the Anthropological Laboratory has been selected… it is expected it will be completed before next April, thus enabling the program of general exhumations to start the same month,» a CMP statement said. The project is being run by a tripartite committee made up of one Greek-Cypriot and one Turkish-Cypriot member, plus a third UN-appointed neutral foreign national. «We are entering 2006 with a hope that this will be the year that exhumations, coupled with proper investigation, would lead to the solution of our problem,» Nicos Theodosiou, chief of the Greek-Cypriot relatives of the missing committee, told AFP. «Turkey now appears to have adopted a different stance than previous years,» he added. The highly charged «missing» issue has been a major obstacle to solving the decades-long Cyprus problem, with Greek Cypriots blaming the unwillingness of the Turkish side to reveal the truth about what happened to those who disappeared in 1974. Nicosia said earlier this year that Turkey had yet to comply with a May 2001 European Court of Human Rights ruling ordering it to investigate around 1,500 cases of Greek Cypriots who disappeared after last being seen alive in Turkish custody.