Tensions are building in divided Cyprus over the beach resort of Varosha ahead of a trip by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the Ankara-backed northern half of the island next week.
There is speculation that during his visit, which coincides with the anniversary of the 1974 invasion by Turkish forces, Mr Erdogan will tour Varosha, a particularly sensitive flashpoint.
The EU has urged Turkey to refrain from any “provocative actions”.
Varosha was once one of the most popular destinations in Cyprus, but its Greek-Cypriot residents fled in 1974 as invading Turkish forces advanced on the area and fenced it off.
In October 2020, the Turkey-backed authorities in northern Cyprus partially reopened the area, in a move condemned by the EU and US, among others. A visit by Mr Erdogan to Varosha a month later further angered Cypriot authorities in the south.
Evidence has since emerged that northern Cyprus is continuing to develop the area.
The EU's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the priority must be restarting peace talks between the internationally recognised Greek-Cypriot government in the south and the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot administration in the north.
He repeated that the EU was completely against a two-state solution in Cyprus, in contrast to the northern administration and its main backer Turkey.
A 1984 UN Security Council resolution stated that “attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants” would be unacceptable.
Speaking after he met with EU foreign ministers on Monday, Mr Borrell said he hoped there would be no need for an emergency meeting over the tensions in Cyprus.
He said the focus was on restarting settlement talks and “trying to avoid any kind of trouble, trying to avoid getting trapped in a negative spiral again. Our wish is to work on the settlement of the Cyprus issue”.
EU foreign ministers are “firmly united” on their rejection of a two-state solution, he said. The Cypriot government, the EU and most of the international community support a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation.
Before the EU ministerial meeting, the Cypriot government said its foreign affairs chief would raise “the issue of the fenced area of Varosha, in view of the Turkish President's illegal visit to the occupied part of Cyprus announced for July 20.”
Mr Erdogan is expected to be accompanied by a large delegation of his Justice and Development Party on his trip to northern Cyprus.
Speaking on Monday, he said it would be a “celebration of peace and freedom” and an opportunity to “send a strong message to the whole world” that Turkey backed the breakaway administration.
Last week, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that “developments in Varosha are perhaps the most illustrative of such challenges in the absence of a political settlement”.
“I reiterate my concern over developments in the fenced-off area of the town and recall that the position of the United Nations remains unchanged”.
Ankara’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus was sparked by a Greek-backed coup, and the island has been divided ever since. Repeated efforts to find a lasting settlement have failed to make headway.
Mr Erdogan’s controversial visit to Cyprus comes at a time when he is looking to rebuild Turkey’s delicate ties with the EU, after tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean last year.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last month she had personally appealed to Mr Erdogan for calm over Cyprus.
“This is a very sensitive topic for us. And we are very clear that we will of course observe how this visit will go and that we will never, ever accept as a European Union a two-state solution,” she said.
“These clear messages have been sent. I said it personally to the president. So it’s up to him now to set a positive signal.”