Cyprus has appealed to the United Nations Security Council over the transfer of part of an abandoned coastal town on the divided Mediterranean island to Turkish Cypriot control.
The self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), backed by Turkey, announced on Tuesday that a small part of Varosha would come under civilian control and be open for potential resettlement.
Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar said his administration would scrap the military status of about 3.5 percent of the town and allow beneficiaries to apply to a commission mandated to offer compensation or restitution of properties.
The move came as the TRNC marked the 47th anniversary of a Turkish invasion that split the island in two.
Varosha, which has been a Turkish military zone since the 1974 invasion, is widely viewed as a bargaining chip for Ankara in any future peace deal.
The latest developments concerning the area triggered an angry reaction from Cyprus’s internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government as well as a chorus of disapproval from the European Union, of which Cyprus is a member, and other Western powers.
On Wednesday, Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides labelled the decision “a clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions”.
“This … will have a negative impact on efforts under way to restart talks,” Christodoulides said after meeting his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias.
Turkish Cypriots press two-state plan
An estimated 17,000 Greek Cypriot residents of Varosha fled the advance of Turkish troops in August 1974.
It has remained empty since, with an eerie collection of derelict high-rise hotels and residences sealed off with barbed wire and no-entry signs.
UN resolutions have called for the area to be turned over to UN administration.
Repurposing the area to Turkish Cypriot civilian authorities effectively challenges a widely-held assumption that Varosha would be among the possible areas returned to Greek Cypriot control in the event of a Cyprus peace settlement.
Peace efforts have repeatedly failed to date.
Tatar and his ally, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have said that only a two-state deal will now work.
“Now, the only demand of the Turkish Cypriots in international negotiations is the recognition of the status of a sovereign state,” Erdogan said on Wednesday, a day after concluding a two-day official visit to Cyprus.
“All offers other than this have expired.”
Stalled peace talks
The UN Security Council was expected to discuss Cyprus on Wednesday afternoon, in a previously scheduled meeting over its “good offices” mission on the island.
To date, the failed Cyprus peace talks have focussed on uniting the island under a federal umbrella.
Under the terms of a 2004 UN reunification blueprint, Varosha was one of the areas which would have returned to its inhabitants under Greek Cypriot administration.
The plan, which detailed reunification under a complex power-sharing agreement, was rejected in a referendum by Greek Cypriots.
Greek Cypriots reject a two-state deal that would accord sovereign status to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state that only Ankara recognises.
The United States on Wednesday rejected Erdogan’s proposal for two states, urging continued efforts for a united island with two zones.
“We think only a Cypriot-led process – bizonal, bicommunal – will bring peace and stability in Cyprus,” Victoria Nuland, the under secretary of state for political affairs, told a Senate hearing.
The EU has also ruled out a two-state deal.
In April, the UN failed to bridge disagreements over restarting peace talks, which collapsed in acrimony in 2017.