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The government of ethnically split Cyprus has lodged formal complaints with the United Nations and the European Union over a decision by Turkey and breakaway Turkish Cypriots to reopen a residential section of an abandoned, military-controlled suburbBy MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS Associated PressJuly 20, 2021, 7:43 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articlePARALIMNI, Cyprus — The government of ethnically split Cyprus lodged formal protests with the United Nations and the European Union on Tuesday over a decision by Turkey and breakaway Turkish Cypriots to reopen a residential section of an abandoned, military-controlled suburb.Calling the move a veiled bid to acquire more territory that could scuttle peace efforts, the government said the five permanent U.N. Security Council members would be informed about what President Nicos Anastasiades called a contravention of council resolutions prohibiting any change to the coastal area’s status and which call for the return of Varosha to its legal inhabitants.Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar announced earlier Tuesday that a 3.5 square-kilometer (1.35 square-mile) section of Varosha would revert from military to civilian control so Greek Cypriots could seek to reclaim their properties through the Immoveable Property Commission (IPC), a legal body that is empowered to adjudicate such cases.Tatar made the announcement ahead of a military parade attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to commemorate the 47th anniversary of a Turkish invasion that followed a coup on Cyprus aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence, and Erdogan’s government keeps more than 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus.The island’s internationally recognized government is in the south. Both Erdogan and Tatar have said that a permanent peace in Cyprus can only come through the international community’s recognition of two separate states, upending decades of negotiations to reach a federation-based reunification accord.The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said in a statement Tuesday that the EU still sees reunification as the goal and supports the involvement of the Security Council. Cyprus is an EU member, and Turkey is not.“The EU remains fully committed to the comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem on the basis of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality, in accordance with the relevant UNSC Resolutions and in line with the principles on which the EU is founded and expects the same of Turkey,” Borrell said. .Some Greek Cypriot lawyers have urged owners to apply to the European Court of Human Rights-endorsed IPC to legally affirm rights to their property in the north.But the Cyprus government worries that an application rush to the IPC could lead to a mass property sell-off that Turkish Cypriots would exploit politically to entrench ethnic division and lend legitimacy to their breakaway state.Varosha is a suburb of Famagusta, a city that was Cyprus’ pre-1974 tourism hub thanks to its pristine beaches and modern hotels. After Varosha’s 15,000 Greek Cypriot residents fled in the face of advancing Turkish troops, the area was fenced-off to prevent any access until last year when Turkish and Turkish Cypriot authorities announced it’s “re-opening.”Varosha’s former residents denounced the move as a bid to take advantage of their desperation over the area’s future and to psychologically pressure them into selling off their properties. Many Turkish Cypriots also condemned the move as undermining ongoing efforts at reconciliation between the two communities.Famagusta Mayor Simos Ioannou told the Associated Press that Tuesday’s announcement aimed to test Greek Cypriots’ resolve about holding on to their properties. The fact that only a small section and not the whole of residential Varosha was re-opened intends to blunt international reaction to the move, Ioannou said.
Turkey’s president says the only route to lasting peace on ethnically divided Cyprus is through the international community’s acceptance of two separate states on the east Mediterranean island nationBy MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS Associated PressJuly 19, 2021, 5:43 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articlePARALIMNI, Cyprus — The only route to lasting peace on ethnically divided Cyprus is through the international community’s acceptance of two separate states on the east Mediterranean island nation, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday.Erdogan said that a “permanent and sustainable solution” to the country’s division “can only be possible” by taking into account that there are “two separate states and two separate people.”“The international community will sooner or later accept this reality,” Erdogan told Turkish Cypriot lawmakers in Cyprus’ breakaway north before celebrations to mark the 47th anniversary of a Turkish invasion that split the island along ethnic lines.Turkey’s 1974 invasion came in the wake of a Greek junta-backed coup that aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and keeps 35,000 troops there.In a 1983 resolution, the U.N. Security Council denounced the Turkish Cypriots’ secessionist move as legally invalid and called for its withdrawal. The European Union has also ruled out a two-state deal. European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said in Nicosia earlier this month that the 27 member-bloc which Cyprus joined in 2004 would “never, ever” accept such an arrangement.But Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots say a two-state deal is the only way to peace because nearly five decades of negotiations based on forging a federation have led nowhere. They fault Greek Cypriots’ unwillingness to “accept the realities” and see Turkish Cypriots as “equal partners.”Cyprus’ internationally recognized government seated in the island’s Greek Cypriot south says there can be no deviation from a 1977 deal to reach a formal peace accord by negotiating a federation made up of a Turkish Cypriot and a Greek Cypriot zone.But the majority Greek Cypriots object to Turkey’s demand for a permanent military presence on the island amid fears that it would turn the island into Ankara’s “protectorate.” They also push back against a Turkish Cypriot demand for veto rights, fearing Ankara’s meddling in Cypriot internal affairs.Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said Erdogan’s remarks were “an expected repeat of Turkey’s unacceptable positions.”Cyprus’ division has fueled tensions over hydrocarbon deposits in the eastern Mediterranean and continues to act as a major impediment to Turkey’s already troubled bid to join the EU.A fervent supporter of a two-state deal, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar also advocates for even closer ties to Ankara.But many Turkish Cypriots object to what they see as Erdogan’s heavy hand in their own matters as pat of his bid for absolute political and economic control of the north.Lawmakers from two left-wing Turkish Cypriot parties, the Republican Turkish Party and the Communal Liberation Party which garnered a combined 30% of the vote in 2018 parliamentary elections boycotted Erdogan’s address to parliament to underscore the point.Meanwhile, hundreds of Greek Cypriots staged a protest against Erdogan’s visit in Dherynia village near Varosha, an abandoned suburb of the town of Famagusta in the north that until recently had been off-limits and under strict Turkish military control.Varosha had remained empty and barren since 1974, but Turkey and Turkish Cypriot authorities last year allowed access to the area. That enraged many of Varosha’s Greek Cypriot residents who saw the move as a bid to pressure them into relinquishing their rights to their properties.Protester Eleni Marangou said Turkish Cypriots also joined the protest to voice their wish for a peace deal reunifying Cyprus.“Famagusta residents haven’t forgotten their town and are united in demanding it back as well as an agreement that reunifies our country,” Marangou told the Associated Press. “We want the powerful of this world to hear our voice.”———AP journalist Ayse Wieting contributed to this report from Istanbul.
It’s said that Demetrius the Besieger, a mighty warrior king and one of Alexander the Great’s successors built a harbor at Amathus, on Cyprus’ southern coast, 2,400 years ago to thwart a potential naval invasionBy MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS Associated PressJuly 19, 2021, 7:29 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleAMATHUS, Cyprus — It’s said that Demetrius the Besieger, a mighty warrior king and one of Alexander the Great’s successors, built this harbor on Cyprus’ southern coast 2,400 years ago to thwart a potential naval invasion from the ruler of Egypt, Ptolemy I, another of Alexander’s heirs.French archaeologists who initially studied the ancient harbor of Amathus believe it to be an incomplete military fortification work, the three piers of which would have accommodated the best of the ancient world’s naval ships, ready to repel an attacking force.Lying just a few feet underwater a mere 200 feet off the coastline near the resort town of Limassol, the harbor will soon be Cyprus’ newest tourist attraction where adventurous holidaymakers can snorkel over its submerged stone remains.It’s a novel direction for Cyprus’ tourism authorities, who are looking beyond the east Mediterranean island nation’s long-held “sun and surf” product to reach out to specialized tourism markets.The COVID-19 pandemic has slashed tourism arrivals for an island that relies much on that revenue, so Cyprus authorities are taking a fresh look at what the island has to offer visitors, to re-ignite interest among those who do opt to travel.Cyprus Antiquities department official Yiannis Violaris says what makes the harbor unique to the entire eastern Mediterranean is its state of preservation, combined with its proximity to the coastline.He says those attributes could bring more people amid a global surge of interest in diving tourism. The fact that Cyprus has earned top marks for the cleanest waters among all other European Union nations for the second year running is also a big bonus.“Tourists as well as local visitors will have the opportunity to see this impressive ancient harbor, to swim over it and to see how it was constructed, with three moles enclosing it,” Violaris told the Associated Press.Specialist diving crews are currently cleaning the harbor of vegetation and will mark underwater routes that swimmers can follow on their tour.Diving tourism isn’t entirely new for the island. Divers have for years been flocking to the wreck of the MS Zenobia, a Swedish-built ferry that sank in about 140 feet of water just over a mile off the coastal town of Larnaca in 1980.The wreck has been ranked as one of the world’s best for divers. But diving shop owner Michalis Sinopouris says authorities need to do a lot more to put Cyprus solidly on the global diving map like scuttling larger ships near the coasts to create artificial reefs.Tourism directly accounts for around 13% of Cyprus’ economy. According to the latest available figures, tourist arrivals between January and February this year marked an 86% drop from the same period in 2019 when Cyprus hit an all-time high in the number of travelers who opted to holiday on the island.Tourism officials had hoped for the industry to rebound this month once the U.K. and Russia — Cyprus’ top two markets — had put the island on their “green” list of safe destinations. Now they’re hoping that August may be the turnaround month.Industry bosses recognize that the sector is hardly “out of the woods” and are urging a re-think on how to market Cyprus’ tourism product.Hotels Association Chief Haris Loizides told an industry conference last week that the country’s tourism “needs to adapt dramatically to survive and continue its critical contribution” to the economy.He proposed a greater focus on the “big picture” of what Cyprus has to offer, like local culture and cuisine, while reaching out to niche markets through digital marketing.“The sustainability of the mass market is being questioned,” Loizides said. “I dare say massive gatherings will gradually become things of the past.”It’s a message that Cyprus’ Deputy Ministry for Tourism has taken to heart, redesigning its logo and reaching out to new markets.“I don’t lose my courage and my optimism because the EU is a big market, so many, many countries, and they feel that the psychology for travel is only now starting to pick up in Europe,” Tourism Deputy Minister Savvas Perdios told The Associated Press.Perdios said authorities are working to extend the holiday season with the launch of a “game changing” campaign dubbed “Heartland of Legends” where tourists can visit a village and witness locals making the island’s world-famous Halloumi cheese, among other experiences.Perdios said despite the drop in arrivals from the U.K. and Russia, he’s encouraged by the digital interest that potential holidaymakers from nontraditional markets such as France and Germany are showing in traveling to Cyprus.“We have been working on these markets. … Things won’t happen from just one day to the next, so I’m still optimistic,” said Perdios.Perhaps Demetrius the Besieger would have approved.
Authorities at a British military base on Cyprus have hired 50% more customs officers and procured detection equipment to better thwart illegal immigration from the breakaway north of the ethnically split islandBy MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS Associated PressJuly 7, 2021, 9:07 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articlePERGAMOS, Cyprus — Authorities at a British military base on Cyprus have hired 50% more customs officers and procured detection equipment to better thwart illegal immigration from the breakaway north of the ethnically split island.The addition of 24 new officers and four SUVs — two with thermal imaging cameras — allows authorities to patrol around-the-clock along a 45-kilometer (28-mile) boundary, Customs and Immigration Chief Adam Chatfield said.There’s a rising trend in migrant arrivals over the last three years. In 2018, authorities located 17 people trying to cross in six instances. That jumped to 33 people in 16 crossing attempts a year later, while 67 people were intercepted in nine attempted crossings last year.Cyprus was cleft along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece. The breakaway Turkish Cypriot north declared independence nearly a decade later, but only Turkey recognizes it and maintains more than 35,000 troops there.A buffer zone controlled by U.N. peacekeepers separates the north from the Greek Cypriot south where the island’s internationally recognized government is seated. Although Cyprus is a European Union member, only the southern part enjoys the bloc’s full benefits.The EU is boosting the role of its border guard and ramping up security and surveillance along its eastern borders, including nearby Greece where authorities have extended a border wall facing Turkey and set up high-tech observation towers.Dhekelia Garrison, one of two military bases that the U.K. retained after Cyprus gained independence from British colonial rule in 1960, directly abuts the north along a corridor of farmland, abandoned homes and fields that offers secluded routes for smugglers, or for migrants to cross.There’s not even a fence to separate the base from the north.Chatfield told The Associated Press that the migrants are usually intercepted in groups of 10 to 20 at an average rate of once a month. The overwhelming majority now are Syrian men seeking asylum in the south.Authorities on the base have an agreement with the Cypriot government to transfer asylum-seekers to the south where their claims are processed. Chatfield said arrangements are made to return those who don’t apply for asylum to the north.Chatfield said an international network of traffickers charges $5,000 per person to smuggle migrants into the south.“Some come soaking wet straight from the boat with nothing but the clothes on their back,” he said. “Detecting traffickers is a key priority for us and we’ll continue to do so.”Cyprus has accused Turkey of deliberately channeling migrants in from the north, and has asked the EU’s border agency Frontex to step in and help.The government says its ability to host more migrants has been stretched beyond its limits, and also wants the EU to manage the arrival of Syrians — either directly from Syria or from Lebanon or Turkey, including relocating them to other EU states.Officials say 3,896 Syrians have reached Cyprus from Turkey in the last two years, usually flying into the north before crossing southward.———Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration
Cyprus’ interior minister says four people have been discovered dead in what he called the “most destructive” fire in the island nation’s historyBy MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS Associated PressJuly 4, 2021, 9:25 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus search crews discovered the bodies of four people outside a fire-swept mountain village on Sunday in what the a government minister called the “most destructive” blaze in the east Mediterranean island nation’s history.Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said that Civil Defense volunteers discovered the remains just outside the village of Odou on the southern edge of the Troodos mountain range.He said authorities are trying to confirm whether the bodies belong to four Egyptian men who had gone missing and search crews had been trying to locate.“We are experiencing the most destructive fire since the founding of the Cyprus republic in both material damage, but also unfortunately in terms of human lives,” Nouris said.President Nicos Anastasiades called the fire “an unprecedented tragedy” except for the destruction wreaked by a 1974 war that split the island along ethnic lines after Turkey invaded in response to a coup aimed at union with Greece.Nouris said Greek and Israeli aircraft will join 11 other planes and helicopters in firefighting efforts later Sunday.The blaze, which began on Saturday afternoon, forced the evacuation of at least eight mountain villages, destroyed several homes, and has so far scorched more than 50 square kilometers (20 square miles) of pine forest and orchards, according to Cyprus’ Environment Ministry.Despondent area residents who saw their homes go up in flames vented their anger at what they called authorities’ slow response to battling the fire.Nouris said firefighting aircraft and ground crews are focusing their efforts on two massive fire fronts between the villages of Odou and Vavatsinia. He said authorities are “cautiously optimistic” that they’ll make progress in beating back the flames.Anastasiades, who is touring the fire-hit villages, said the blaze is “partially contained,” but the fear is that the flames could intensify again if strong winds reappear later in the day.Nouris said 36 people who had been evacuated from their homes have been taken to hotels in the capital, Nicosia, while food and water is being supplied to Melini village residents.The blaze forced the Cypriot government to request firefighting aircraft from fellow European Union member countries and neighboring Israel. Fire department officials said the entire department has been mobilized to fight the fire with off-duty staff being called back into service.Around 70 fire engines, seven bulldozers and 10 water tankers have been mobilized. Many volunteers also rushed to help fire crews.Cypriot government spokesman Marios Pelekanos said that one of two Greek Canadair CL-415 aircraft that were dispatched to the island had to turn back because of a technical malfunction.Another Greek aircraft is being sent to replace the faulty plane and is now being refueled on the Greek island of Rhodes, Anastasiades said.He said two Israeli planes have been sent, while authorities are awaiting confirmation about the arrival of two Italian aircraft.Police said a 67-year-old man faces arson charges. A court ordered that he remains in custody for eight days to assist in the investigation into the cause of the fire.Anastasiades urged citizens to be on the lookout for “those who cause such destruction either carelessly or deliberately.”
British Royal Navy commanders say the U.K.’s newest aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is helping to take on the “lion’s share” of operations against the Islamic State group in IraqBy MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS Associated PressJune 22, 2021, 12:50 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleEASTERN MEDITERRANEAN SEA — Britain’s newest aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is helping to take on the “lion’s share” of operations against the Islamic State group in Iraq, U.K. naval commanders said. It has also piqued the interest of Russian warplanes, who try to keep tabs on its cutting-edge F-35 jet in a “cat-and-mouse” game with British and U.S. pilots.Speaking aboard the 65,000-ton carrier on its first-ever deployment, Commodore Steve Moorhouse said the U.K. is carrying out most of the missions to wipe out the remnants of IS in Iraq as the U.S. focuses on its withdrawal from Afghanistan.“At the moment, we’re taking on the lion’s share of that operation over Iraq, which is a fantastic, say, feather in our cap. But an achievement that ‘A’, we’re trusted and ‘B’, that we’re able to do that,” Moorhouse told reporters Sunday.It’s the first time that a U.K. aircraft carrier is supporting live military operations on the ground in over two decades, projecting British military power on a global scale. Moorhouse said the carrier offers the U.K. flexibility in how to conduct military operations abroad and “keeps those that wish to cause us harm … on their toes.”He said the eastern Mediterranean has become more “congested and contested” over the last decade in light of the heavier Russian military presence in Syria, which is resulting in regular encounters with Russian ships and warplanes.“We’re rubbing up against Russian activity, not in a you know, in a dangerous or aggressive manner, but you’ve just got other people out here playing in what is a fixed piece of water and airspace,” said Moorhouse, adding that a Russian warship has come within 10 kilometers (16 miles) of the carrier.The commodore insisted that Russian, British and U.S. pilots have a “healthy respect for one another” and their conduct has been “absolutely professional” since the aircraft carrier started anti-IS operations on June 18.“But there is a reality when you buy yourself a fifth-generation aircraft carrier and you take it around the world … people are interested in it,” he added.Captain James Blackmore, who commands the eight British F-35 jets and the 10 helicopters aboard the carrier, said U.K. and Russian pilots have come within “visual distance” of each other.“It’s that cat-and-mouse posturing, it’s what we expect in this region of world. And as you can imagine, it’s the first time for F-35s into the eastern Mediterranean,” said Blackmore. “So, of course Russia wants to look at what they’re like, they want to look at what our carriers are like.”The state-of-the art F-35, armed with air-to-air missiles and laser-guided bombs, is being used over Iraq to look for other aircraft or unmanned drones, support troops on the ground as well as to carry out surveillance with its sophisticated sensor and radar systems.“It’s a fifth-generation aircraft with a hugely, hugely capable radar and sensor suite, and that’s what it brings. So it’s the eyes and ears that it’s offering out there,” said Moorhouse.The HMS Queen Elizabeth and its support ships, which include the U.S. destroyer The Sullivans, will remain in the eastern Mediterranean for two to three weeks before moving through the Suez Canal to continue with a 7 1/2 -month deployment to India, South Korea and Japan.The carrier also has 10 U.S. F-35 jets from the Marine Corps’ Fighter Attack Squadron 211 aboard that carry out operations under British command.