NICOSIA — After Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades withdrew his demand for sanctions over Turkey drilling for energy off the island, the self-declared government on the occupied northern third of the island said it would open a beach in the closed-off resort of Varosha on Oct. 8.
The Turkish government, which has the last say for what it calls a Republic on Cyprus no other country recognizes, has vowed to open the whole town in defiance of a United Nations resolution.
It's been closed off, except to Turkey's military and officials since Turkey unlawfully invaded the island in 1974, seizing the once-famous resort that had lured celebrities and the well-heeled.
The news agency Reuters reported that Ersin Tatar, the breakaway state's seld-declared premier – Mustafa Akinci claims the title of leader - made the announcement in Ankara alongside Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan who said he backed the decision on Varosha.
That also came as Erdogan maneuvered the European Union not to impose sanctions for now over his plans to also drill for oil and gas off Greek islands, the decision pushed back to the end of the year so Greece and Turkey can talk.
"God willing, we will start to use the Maras beach on (Oct. 8) together with our people," Tatar said, using Varosha's Turkish name, a move that would also further set back any hopes of reunification.
“We hope that Maras will be fully opened for use,” Erdogan said. “We are ready to provide every support to the (Turkish-Cypriot) authorities in this regard.”
Erdogan said because it’s only beachfront that belongs to the Turkish-Cypriot state, the rights of Varosha’s Greek-Cypriot property owners aren’t being violated, trying to do an end-around with the UN.
The town had some 39,000 Greek-Cypriot residents who had to flee before the advancing Turkish army that had the implicit support of the United States to go ahead with two invasions in the summer of 1974.
A southern suburb of Famagusta city, Varosha has been empty since the invasion, following a brief Greek-inspired coup, that divided the island, the legitimate government of the the Greek-Cypriot side a member of the EU.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who failed in the summer of 2017 to broker reunification talks between the sides in secret meetings at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana, warned against Turkey' “unilateral actions.”
But he did nothing about it after repeatedly ignoring entreaties from Anastasiades to do something to stop constant Turkish provocations and drilling in Cypriot waters, the EU imposing only soft sanctions exempting Erdogan.
As Guterres doesn't often speak to reporters so he can avoid questions, he issues statements. His spokesman, Stephane Dujarric released one that said Guterres urged futher talks, the same failed mantra of a long line of UN leaders.
European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell echoed Guterres said the 27-member bloc is “deeply concerned,” one of its boilerplate statements rolled out during frequent Turkish provocations before nothing is done.
He said the development “will cause greater tensions and may complicate efforts” to restart negotiations that have been dead in the water for three years, since Erdogan and Akinci said they wouldn't remove a 35,000-strong standing army on the occupied side and wanted the right of military intervention.
“What is urgent now is to rebuild trust and not to create greater divisions," Borrell said in a statement, adding that the EU is in contact with the UN and is keeping a close eye on the situation as no sanctions were even discussed.
Cyprus' government said it would lodge formal protests with the EU, UN and other international organizations who are essentially powerless to do anything except tweet or state support for Cyprus, which hasn't worked yet.
Cyprus government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said the move contravenes international law and UN.Security Council resolutions on Varosha but Guterres didn't move to act on it.
Greece's Foreign Ministry also condemned the decision as a “flagrant violation” of UN decisions and said Athens would back the Cypriot government's efforts as it has repeatedly done only to get nowhere either.
Turkey said it is just the beach being opened and the ghost town itself will be left alone for now but the Cypriot government said it could be the gambit to open the whole town as the UN has shown it won't try to stop Turkey.
In a 1984 resolution, the UN Security Council said it considers attempts to settle any part of Varosha by anyone other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the area to be transferred under UN. Administration, stopping there.
The announcement came five days before Turkish Cypriots vote for a new leader to represent them in planned peace talks. Guterres said he would call a meeting of the two sides in Cyprus as well as officials from the island’s ‘guarantors’ — Greece, Turkey and Britain — after the election to see if there's any chance to restart reunification talks.
Tatar, who is also leader of the right-wing UBP party, is challenging incumbent leftist leader Akinci who called out Turkey for meddling in the campaign to boost Tatar's support ahead of the vote.
Akinci said Varosha's opening should be in line with UN decisions and international law but didn't show any inclination to challenge Erdogan either.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)