Turkish Cypriot leader calls air-to-land link offer a ‘stunt’


NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot side of ethnically divided Cyprus on Thursday rejected Greek Cypriot overtures to revive peace efforts by offering international air and sea links in exchange for territory.

Ersin Tatar called the offer a “propaganda stunt” aimed at keeping his people under the thumb of his rivals. Accepting it would amount to Turkish Cypriots indirectly recognizing the “sole authority (and) sovereignty of the Greek Cypriot regime on the island”, he said.

Cyprus’ foreign minister recently offered the return of an abandoned suburb to its former Greek Cypriot inhabitants in return for allowing an unrecognized airport in the north to operate international flights under UN control and a seaport under the direction of the European Union.

Varosha, a roughly 6.2 square kilometer (2.4 square mile) suburb on the once prosperous eastern coast of the Mediterranean nation, had until recently remained under Turkish military control. Its inhabitants fled during a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a coup aimed at a Cypriot union with Greece.

Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and maintains more than 35,000 troops in the separatist north. Peace talks over nearly 50 years have led nowhere.

Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides described the proposal as a confidence-building measure that will hopefully lead to a return to peace talks.

Tatar is a strong supporter of a Turkish-backed two-state deal for Cyprus that deviates from United Nations resolutions endorsing long-established parameters of a deal that would reunite the island into a two-zone federation.

The majority of Greek Cypriots fear that a two-state deal would officially divide the country and bring the island under Turkish control. Tatar said negotiations could only begin if Greek Cypriots accepted the “inherent sovereign equality” of their Turkish counterparts.

The Greek Cypriot proposal lacks details, including whether flights departing from the Turkish Cypriot airport would fall under the jurisdiction of Greek Cypriot-run air traffic control in Nicosia. But Cypriot Foreign Ministry spokesman Demetris Demetriou said details could be ironed out if Turkish Cypriots agree to discuss the proposal in principle.

Tatar instead proposed the creation of a committee to negotiate joint management and revenue sharing of the island’s potential offshore hydrocarbon deposits. He said his idea was a “true confidence-building measure” that could help “prepare the ground for a lasting political settlement”.

The Cypriot government has said the island’s potential hydrocarbon reserves are non-negotiable, fearing gas-sharing talks with the Turkish Cypriots could lend legitimacy to the breakaway state. The Greek Cypriot President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, said that the monetary share to which the Turkish Cypriots are entitled will be deposited in a blocked account.


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