Dherynia Mayor Andreas Karayiannis says his constituents are appalled at groups and politicians protesting against the opening of a checkpoint in their area, despite delays making the crossing an unlikely scenario this summer.
Karayiannis went on radio Tuesday to condemn the passing of leaflets, which were placed in mailboxes of local residents, calling on people to reject the effort of opening a checkpoint in Dherynia.
The leaflets were circulated by socialist Edek party, which is mounting a campaign to stop the opening of the checkpoint.
Greek Cypriots argued that the current road was the easiest choice, while the Turkish army raised security concerns over the proposed route
Edek leader Marinos Sizopoulos is spearheading the effort, citing unfair competition from the Turkish Cypriot side. He says he has data showing that 10,000 tourists in the Republic of Cyprus visit the north from the Strovilia checkpoint, resulting in lost revenue to the tune of half a million.
Sizopoulos also says low prices combined with tax flaws in the north are creating unfavourable and unfair conditions for tourism professionals in the south, and the numbers would increase with another checkpoint opening.
Dherynia wants checkpoint open
But Karayiannis dismisses Edek’s arguments, saying his community has no other way to bounce back financially as it is facing high youth unemployment on land that was reduced to 25% due to the division of the island.
A protest against the checkpoint has been scheduled for Thursday.
But Karayiannis says Edek is wrongly pushing the message against the checkpoint at the same time of the year when there are anti-military demonstrations.
The mayor said if people have a legitimate argument against tourists in the south going on tours in the north, they should take the issue up directly with holiday tour operators as well as local hotels and advertising agencies that put up posters advertising day trips in the north.
Karayiannis issued an invitation to Edek and other leaders to have a discussion about local problems in Dherynia and further called on President Nicos Anastasiades to double his efforts for the opening of the checkpoint.
The opening of the Dherynia checkpoint was agreed between the two Cypriots leaders, Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci as part of a Confidence Building Measure (CBM).
But technical issues got in the way early on in the process, with Greek Cypriots insisting on making use of the old road that leads to ghost-town Varoshia and Turkish Cypriots proposing a detour several hundred metres away to keep the route away from a military fence.
According to local media, the Greek Cypriot side argued that the current road was the “easiest, most cost-efficient, and reasonable choice.”
But Turkish Cypriots and the Turkish army raised security concerns over the proposed route, citing fears of annual demonstrations, such as annual memorial marches for two Greek Cypriot bikers who were killed in August 1996 during riots in the buffer zone.
Another Turkish soldier was shot dead a month later in a revenge attack.
Greek Cypriots say they are ready
Greek Cypriots say they are ready for the opening while reports say the Turkish military is reluctant to agree to any solutions that would obstruct or move away their guard post.
Another cause for delay is other CBM still on the backburner, such as opening more checkpoints as well as cooperating on mobile telephony between the two sides and joining the electric grid.
As relations are currently frozen between the two sides, it remains unclear whether a solution can be found to the Dherynia checkpoint.
Karayiannis said “we will miss this tourist season too,” adding he didn’t expect anything to happen this year.
In the meantime, reports say tourists have been arriving at the checkpoint these past couple of weeks, as they are being told it should be open as of early July, only to find it closed and head for another crossing.
Currently, there are seven official crossing points between north and south. The last checkpoint was opened in 2010.