By Constantinos Psillides
Cyprus must dig up the Nord Noratlas military transport plane buried at the Makedonitissa military cemetery in Nicosia or face sanctions from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), according to a memo sent by the Legal Services last week.
Per an out-of-court settlement with the relatives of Greek commandos Stefanos Tzilivakis and Kosmas Yiannakakis – who both lost their lives during the Turkish invasion in 1974 – the state agreed to recover the airplane to determine whether their remains were buried with it.
The plane was brought down by friendly fire while trying to land at Nicosia airport and all but one of the soldiers on board died. The soldiers were buried at the Lakatamia military cemetery in Nicosia and in 1979 their remains were sent back to their families in Greece.
DNA testing in 2003 showed that many of the remains were misidentified and that some of the bodies were never accounted for.
It is believed that some of the soldiers may be buried along with the plane.
Both the commandos’ families took Cyprus to the ECHR but settled out of court when the state said it would recover the plane and determine whether anyone was buried with it.
The matter became a cause of alarm for the Legal Services when the families’ lawyer contacted them asking that the recovery work starts immediately. According to the settlement, excavation should begin in 2014.
In a meeting that took place last week, chaired by Commissioner for Humanitarian and Overseas Affairs Fotos Fotiou, it was decided that the state go forth with recovery and that the Cyprus Scientific and Technical Chamber (ETEK) come up with ways of carrying out the recovery but limiting the damage in Makedonitissa.
The Makedonitissa cemetery is a war memorial, built on top of the Nord Noratlas plane.
“This is a totally manageable problem. We still have time to comply and state officials are very aware of the time limitations,” a government source told the Cyprus Mail.
Thanasis Zafeiriou was the only survivor of the plane that was shot down. According to his account, he managed to pry the plane door open before the plane was completely engulfed in flames and jumped out. He was later found unconscious by National Guard soldiers and taken to a hospital.