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Sides far apart in peace talks says Anastasiades

By Stefanos Evripidou

THE TWO sides’ positions in the peace talks are far apart, said President Nicos Anastasiades yesterday, arguing certain Turkish Cypriot positions fall outside the realm of the joint declaration agreed by the two leaders last month.

Speaking to a group of university students from Greece at the Presidential Palace, Anastasiades also warned of the dangers of Greek Cypriots applying to the immovable property commission (IPC) in the north.

On the peace talks, he said: “I have to be honest…There is distance (between the two sides). I want to believe that these are just starting positions and that further clarifications will follow,” adding, “But the content of the joint declaration acts as a shield for our side.”

The president said the Greek Cypriot negotiating team is working on a document comparing the positions of the Turkish Cypriot side with the joint declaration agreed on February 11, looking at where those positions are compatible or in conflict with the joint text.

The document will be submitted during his next meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu on Monday.

Anastasiades said he would also pass on the prepared document to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during a meeting with him in Brussels on April 2, and all parties involved or interested in the Cyprus peace process, including the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Anastasiades expressed concern about the huge numbers of Greek Cypriots seeking recourse to the IPC in the north as a result of people’s “despair”- heightened by the economic crisis.

“Some call it illegal, but unfortunately, it is not illegal at all,” said Anastasiades about the IPC. Following a written statement by Turkey where it acknowledged controlling the occupied part of Cyprus, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the IPC is “nothing more than a Turkish domestic remedy”, he explained.

The ECHR decision boiled down to “political expediency, but also the passage of time”.

According to the president, there are over 5,600 applications by Greek Cypriot owners of property in the occupied areas currently pending at the IPC.

“I don’t know how much territory these applications relate to but if time passes without progress, eventually certain aspects of the solution, such as the property issue and territorial adjustments will become areas which the Greek Cypriot side will not be able to negotiate on,” he said.

Greek Cypriots who receive compensation for their properties are obligated to transfer them to the Turkish state and this is a concern, he added.

In turn, the Turkish state asks Turkish Cypriots to transfer their properties in the government-controlled areas over to Turkey in exchange for Greek Cypriot properties in the north.

As a result, not only do parts of the occupied areas come under the control of Turkey but also Ankara has a presence in the territory controlled by the state, said the president.

Meanwhile, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso chaired a meeting of the Cyprus Steering Group in Brussels yesterday to assess the situation following the resumption of fully-fledged talks in February.

The group discussed how the Commission can best play its part in enhancing its support to the negotiation process, and also how to “step up” its help to “familiarise” the Turkish Cypriot community with the EU acquis that would have to be implemented in light of a final settlement, said Barroso.

“On both accounts we need to ensure that our pace matches progress in the settlement talks and that the two parties agree,” he said.

Barroso said the “courage shown by the two community leaders to resume talks and the positive atmosphere this has triggered on the island” have reinforced his belief in the genuine opportunity to solve the Cyprus issue for good.

“I expect that the negotiations will swiftly address matters of substance and that a final settlement is found for the benefit of all the Cypriots,” he said.

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