The Committee on Missing Persons says they need to start opening graves to obtain DNA, just days after media reports said CMP was slowing down, but the task ahead is difficult and in need of cash.
CMP’s Greek Cypriot representative Nestoras Nestoros appeared before a Missing Persons House committee this week, telling MPs that there were 66 cases where no genetic material had been obtained from first degree relatives.
Nestoros said that a minimum of 66 graves would have to be opened in several areas in the south.
Nestoros said Greek Cypriots had to sign off on the landfill restoration project, as approval from the Republic of Cyprus was necessary
But the number could be higher, Nestoros added, citing a common practice where DNA must be obtained from both parents. This could mean that more graves may need to be opened in cases where couples were buried separately.
Authorities have asked people who may have information about incidents or burial sites to come forward. While a lot of tips had been coming in, it is believed that some information will never be recovered wither because people passed away or are simply unwilling to come forward.
The Ashia question
During the committee hearing, the issue of the remains of about 80 Greek Cypriots from Ashia came up.
The issue made news years ago when the Turkish Cypriot representative of the CMP, Gulden Plumer Kucuk, said there were witness accounts saying the remains of men from Ashia were dug up and reburied at the Dikomo landfill.
The men were reportedly on their way to Turkey as war prisoners but were killed execution-style on 21 August 1974, one day following the UN discovery of a mass grave of Turkish Cypriot women and children from three villages who had been murdered by Greek Cypriots a week earlier.
The bodies of the men were dumped at a different location but were later transferred to the Dikomo landfill between 1995 and 1996, according to reports.
The dump site was later restored with EU funds, closing down one of the major environmental hotspots in the northern part of Cyprus.
Nestoros said Greek Cypriots had to sign off on the landfill restoration project, as approval from the Republic of Cyprus was necessary.
“And we gave approval for this restoration project and yet we accuse others,” said Charis Simeonides, the president of another committee for missing persons during the interethnic violence of 1963-1964.
“We don’t know whether remains from other burials were also moved there,” says Nestoros, adding that it is not known whether the men from Ashia were even buried there.
The third member of the CMP, Swiss national Paul-Henri Arni, said “the EU, not knowing what had happened, funded and implemented the termination of this dumping site which was an environmental disaster for the region.”
The task of finding remains in a small area which is now a hill planted with trees remains very difficult, according to the official.
But Portugese experts who took part in the restoration project have agreed to assist in the process.
CMP needs more cash
Arni spoke with CNA News two months ago and issued an appeal to any country interested in helping to do so by helping fund the projects.
Last year the budget came to €3. 5 million, a jump from €3 million the previous year which is the minimum required.
But this year, according to Anri, the CMP is short of €400,000 even with its annual funding from the EU, its biggest donor with €2.6 million.
Anri says the cost for DNA analysis has gone up, since more mixed graves were being discovered compared to earlier tasks where a single bone extraction was sufficient. The cost is €400 per bone sample, he said.
“Because right now the trust is in short supply and this work restores trust, we have seen it, we have measured it with families who have received the remains and it helps countries in the region to restore cooperation, so it has definitely an impact on reconciliation, it is hard to see Cyprus reconciling and reaching a settlement with this number of missing persons still out it the wilderness. It is an important project to fund” he told CNA.
The CMP operates on a bicommunal mandate and was set up in 1981 with consent from both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, aimed to recover and identify the remains of missing persons without getting into politics.