Political reactions have been getting stronger by the day on both sides of divided Cyprus over a recent announcement to open a beach strip in ghost town Varosha in the north, just days ahead of a general election.
Earlier this week, top administrator of the executive branch in the Turkish Cypriot north, Ersin Tatar, dropped a political bombshell during a visit to Turkey, where he announced that beach areas in long-abandoned Varosha would reopen to the public on Thursday.
Tatar, a candidate for the Turkish Cypriot leader position in the north, made the statement during a joint press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Presidential Complex in Ankara.
In the south, Republic of Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said the decision to proceed with the opening of the coast line of Varosha, the fenced-off section of Famagusta, was “totally unacceptable.”
But reactions also came from Turkish Cypriot politicians, including Kudret Ozersay who is in charge of foreign matters in the north and a strong supporter of re-opening Varosha.
Ozersay, who led his People's Party (HP) into a ruling collation last year with National Unity Party (UBP), said HP was withdrawing from the coalition and accused Tatar of acting without consulting his coalition partners. Ozersay is also running in the election on Sunday, October 11.
Erdogan gave his full support to the decision to open Varosha's coastline to the public
Tatar’s move was described by politicians and media pundits as a pre-election gimmick, with Ozersay saying the announcement was not in fact referring to a decision to open the abandoned town, citing lack of formal decision by political leaders in the north.
While no private property was scheduled to be affected by the reopening on Thursday, Erdogan said “Varosha is a Turkish Cypriot territory,” with the Turkish President giving his full support to the decision to open the coastline to the public.
“Turkey is ready to support the Turkish Cypriot administration to fully open the town of Varosha,” Erdogan said.
But Nicosia says opening Varosha would be a violation of UN resolutions and Security Council decisions.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was concerned by Tatar's announcement, saying the position of the United Nations on Varosha remained unchanged and was guided by Security Council resolutions.
“The Secretary-General stresses the need to avoid any unilateral actions that could trigger tensions on the island and undermine the return to dialogue or the future success of talks. He calls on all parties to engage in dialogue in order to resolve their differences, and reiterates his readiness to bring the parties together,” a UN statement said.
A group of resolutions essentially forbid the resettlement of Varosha by people other than its original inhabitants, while also calling for the administration of the ghost town to be handed over to the United Nations.
Peace efforts to settle the Cyprus problem have failed one after the other, including a referendum in 2004, rejected in the south, which would have returned Varosha under Greek Cypriot administration.
Turkey says Greek Cypriots are not sincere in their efforts to reach a federal solution that would reunite the ethnically-split island, while Greek Cypriots accuse Ankara of not being flexible in negotiations.
Varosha was a famous summer resort before being closed down in 1974, when its Greek Cypriot residents fled south as Turkish troops landed on the island in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup.
The ghost town, also known as Maras, is currently under the administration of the Turkish military while entry to Varosha is strictly forbidden.