Turkey says part of Cyprus ghost town to reopen; Greece objects
NICOSIA, July 20 (Reuters) - Turkish Cypriot authorities announced on Tuesday a partial reopening of an abandoned town for potential resettlement, drawing a strong rebuke from rival Greek Cypriots of orchestrating a land-grab by stealth.
Varosha, an eerie collection of derelict high-rise hotels and residences, has been deserted since a 1974 war which split the island, a military zone nobody has been allowed to enter.
Turkish Cypriot authorities opened a small area for day visits in November 2020, and on Tuesday said a part of it would be converted to civilian use with a mechanism in place for people to potentially reclaim their properties.
"A new era will begin in Maras which will benefit everyone," said Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who was visiting breakaway north Cyprus on Tuesday. Maras is the Turkish name for Varosha.
Greek Cypriots fear a change to the area's status displays a clear intent of Turkey to appropriate it. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades described the move as "unacceptable".
"It alters or is an attempt to alter the status quo," he said.
Greece's foreign ministry said it condemned the move "in the strongest terms".
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell expressed concern. "(The) unilateral decision announced today by President Erdogan and (Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin) Tatar risks raising tensions on the island & compromising return to talks on a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue," he said on Twitter.
United Nations resolutions call for Varosha to be handed over to U.N. administration and to allow people to return to their homes.
Tuesday marked the 47th anniversary of a Turkish invasion mounted in 1974 after a Greek Cypriot coup engineered by the military then ruling Greece. Peace efforts have repeatedly floundered, and a new Turkish Cypriot leadership, backed by Turkey, says a peace accord between two sovereign states is the only viable option.
Greek Cypriots, who represent Cyprus internationally and are backed by the European Union, reject a two-state deal for the island which would accord sovereign status to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state that only Ankara recognises.
"A new negotiation process (to heal Cyprus' division) can only be carried out between the two states. We are right and we will defend our right to the end," Erdogan said in a speech in the divided Cypriot capital of Nicosia.
Varosha has always been regarded as a bargaining chip for Ankara in any future peace deal, and one of the areas widely expected to have been returned to Greek Cypriot administration under a settlement. The Turkish Cypriot move renders that assumption more uncertain.