UN council rejects reopening of Cyprus ghost town of Varosha

Turkish President Erdogan's calls for a two-state island were rebuffed by the UN's top body

The UN Security Council on Friday condemned Turkey’s call for a two-state solution for Cyprus and moves by Turkish Cypriots to reopen an abandoned resort on the divided Mediterranean island.

The 15-nation council rejected efforts by Turkish Cypriots, backed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to revert a sliver of the Varosha ghost town to civilian control, paving the way for resettlement.

“The Security Council condemns the announcement in Cyprus by Turkish and Turkish Cypriot leaders on … the further reopening of a part of the fenced-off area of Varosha,” members said in an agreed-upon text.

“The Security Council expresses its deep regret regarding these unilateral actions that run contrary to its previous resolutions and statements.”

Council members also urged all sides to work towards a “just settlement” to the decades-old dispute “based on a bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality” between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

The island was divided into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south in 1974 after Turkey’s invasion, which was prompted by a pro-Athens coup.

The country, now an EU member dominated by Greek Cypriots, and the UN both seek a federation of two regional administrations united as one nation of about 900,000 people.

On a visit to the north of divided Nicosia on Tuesday, Mr Erdogan said half a century of UN efforts had failed and called for “two peoples and two states with equal status”.

Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, an ally of Mr Erdogan, announced the same day new steps in opening up the deserted Varosha area.

Under Mr Tatar’s plan, a 3.5-square kilometre sliver of Varosha and its abandoned tower blocks would revert from military to civilian control.

The moves triggered an angry reaction from the Greek Cypriot government and a chorus of disapproval from western powers, led by the US, which called the move “unacceptable”.

Varosha is a suburb of Famagusta, a city that was Cyprus’s tourism centre before 1974, with pristine beaches and modern hotels.

After Varosha’s 15,000 Greek Cypriot residents fled before advancing Turkish troops, the area was fenced off until last year, when Turkish and Turkish Cypriot authorities announced its reopening.

The area's former residents denounced the latest move as an effort to take advantage of their desperation over the area’s future and pressure them into selling their properties.

UN-mediated talks aimed at reuniting Cyprus ended in failure, with the last push for a peace deal, in July 2017, ending in acrimony.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres held informal talks with Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders in Geneva in April, which made little headway on the island’s future. Still, the UN chief said he would “not give up”.

Updated: July 23rd 2021, 5:49 PM