NICOSIA — The leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot side of ethnically split Cyprus on Thursday rejected overtures by Greek Cypriots to reignite 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 their rivals’ thumb. Accepting it would amount to the Turkish Cypriots indirectly acknowledging the “sole authority (and) sovereignty of the Greek Cypriot polity over the island,” he said.
The foreign minister of Cyprus recently proposed the return of an abandoned suburb to its former Greek Cypriot inhabitants in exchange for allowing an unrecognized airport in the north to operate international flights under United Nations control and a sea port to run under European Union management.
Varosha, a suburb of around 6.2 square kilometers (2.4 square miles) located on the Mediterranean nation’s once-prosperous eastern coastline, had until recently remained under Turkish military control. Its inhabitants fled during a 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a coup aimed at a Cypriot union with Greece.
Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence, and it maintains more than 35,000 troops in the breakaway north. Peace talks over the course of nearly 50 years have led nowhere.
Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides described the proposal as a confidence-building measure that would hopefully lead to a return to the peace negotiations.
Tatar is a strident proponent of a Turkey-backed two-state deal for Cyprus that diverges from United Nations resolutions endorsing the long-established parameters of an accord that would reunify the island as a two-zone federation.
The majority Greek Cypriots fear a two-state deal would formally partition the country and put the island under Turkey’s control. Tatar said negotiations can’t begin unless the Greek Cypriots accept their Turkish counterparts’ “inherent sovereign equality.”
The Greek Cypriot proposal lacks specifics, including whether flights out of the Turkish Cypriot airport would fall under the jurisdiction of the the Greek Cypriot-run air traffic control in Nicosia. But Cypriot Foreign Ministry spokesman Demetris Demetriou said the details could be worked out if Turkish Cypriots agree to discuss the proposal in principle.
Tatar instead proposed the establishment of a committee to negotiate the joint management and revenue sharing from the island’s potential offshore hydrocarbon deposits. He said his idea was a “genuine confidence-building measure” that could help “prepare the ground for a sustainable political settlement.”
The Cyprus government said the island’s potential hydrocarbon reserves aren’t up for negotiation amid fears that gas-sharing talks with Turkish Cypriots would impart legitimacy to the breakaway state. Cyprus’ Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said the monetary share which the Turkish Cypriots are entitled to would be deposited into an escrow account.