Ruling Disy leader Averof Neophytou and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci had dinner last Tuesday in the north, where they discussed ongoing efforts to resume stalled talks on the Cyprus problem, it emerged on Friday.
Speaking on state radio, Neophytou confirmed a report by local daily Simerini, which said that the dinner had been arranged by Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry boss Phidias Pilides and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Fikri Toros.
The two men were attended the dinner.
The paper reported that other leading members of Disy had been kept out of the loop.
Neophytou said issues concerning the business worlds of the two communities were discussed at the dinner.
Describing the atmosphere as “very good, if not excellent”, Neophytou said he explained to Akinci that, as Disy leader, he had had no idea of the legislative amendment introducing an annual commemoration of the 1950 plebiscite for Enosis (or union with Greece) in state schools.
The decision resulted in Akinci’s withdrawal from the talks until the decision is revoked.
Neophytou also said that he reaffirmed to Akinci that Disy and the Greek Cypriot side have not suddenly shifted policy on the Cyprus problem, and have not abandoned the effort for a bizonal, bicommunal federation in favour of union with Greece.
According to Disy’s leader, a legislative proposal the party has tabled, wresting decision-making power on school commemorations from parliament and handing it to the education ministry, will be discussed at the House education committee on Wednesday.
It is understood this is an indirect way for the government to revoke parliament’s decision.
News of the informal dinner prompted a barrage of damning statements by opposition parties, demanding to know whether it had been sanctioned by Anastasiades and what was discussed there.
In a statement, Diko demanded that Neophytou clarify whether he has promised Akinci that the Enosis decision will be reversed.
“Mr Averof Neophytou’s eagerness to assure the Turkish Cypriot leader that he had not been aware of the Enosis referendum amendment, coupled with the Disy-sponsored proposal to move decision-making for school celebrations to the education ministry, reasonably leads to the conclusion that Disy’s leadership is preparing for the great U-turn,” the party said.
“Mr Neophytou must publicly clarify whether he has promised the Turkish Cypriot leader that he will revoke the parliament’s decision on the Enosis referendum.”
Refraining from outright criticism, the Citizens’ Alliance asked to be informed of any developments.
“We believe it would be good for Mr Neophytou to brief the political leadership or the National Council, if President Anastasiades ever convenes it, on what was discussed at the dinner and what his thoughts are on the Turkish Cypriot side’s intentions,” spokesman Andreas Apostolou said.
The Solidarity movement said Neophytou had effectively “submitted a certificate of good conduct” to Akinci.
“Secret diplomacy on [Neophytou’s] part is not new,” spokesman Yiannis Selinopoulos said.
“Fully comfortable in meeting secretly with various officials from organisations and embassies in Nicosia, he simply repeated himself, meeting in secret even with the Turkish Cypriot leader. We hope he will reveal what commitments he undertook during the dinner.”
President Anastasiades should clarify whether he knew about, and sanctioned, the dinner, Selinopoulos said.
Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides confirmed on Friday that Anastasiades had been aware of the dinner.
In a statement, the Greens said Neophytou “crossed the line” by standing in for President Anastasiades.
“The Neophytou-Akinci dinner confirms the impression that Disy and the president are ready to give everything to the Turks, in order to restart the talks,” the party said.
“We remind Mr Neophytou that only President Anastasiades is authorised to carry out the talks.”
Responding to the criticism, Disy confirmed the dinner in a statement and defended the need for dialogue.
“Of course, it was an informal, friendly meeting,” the party said.
“Such meetings are required, and the party’s chairman has had, is having, and will continue to have any contacts that might facilitate mutual understanding with a goal to resuming talks.”