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Leaders issue plea for information on the missing (Update 4: Anastasiades pledges immunity from prosecution)

File photo - President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci at the Anthropological Laboratory (CAL) of the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP)

President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci on Sunday recorded a message with a plea for information on the missing persons that will be broadcast on TV islandwide.

Immunity from prosecution will also be granted to people on both sides who have information but might be afraid to come forward, Anastasiades said.

The leaders met on Sunday for the last time in 2015 following a visit earlier in the morning to the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) anthropological lab in Nicosia.

According to a UN statement the leaders were briefed on the progress made at the lab, and the challenges faced by the Committee. During their visit, they recorded an appeal calling on all Cypriots to provide information to the CMP on possible burial sites. This appeal will be shown island-wide as a TV-spot, the statement said.

Speaking on his return to the presidential palace after talks with Akinci, Anastasiades said it was a “very emotional visit” for both leaders.

He appealed again for anyone who had information on the missing persons to pass it on to the competent authorities and they would be granted full anonymity and freedom from prosecution “so to ensure at least on this humanitarian issue there is freedom of information because there are reservations or concerns that potentially giving information, they will find themselves in the dock”. “We as both leaders will respect this anonymity, we have both said,” Anastasiades added.

“Therefore, I want once again to appeal, especially in view of the Christmas holidays,” the president said. “Give as much information as you have. We are talking about a completely humanitarian issue. No punishment, no blame, no responsibility… I think after 41 years the relatives of the missing persons ate entitled to know the fate of their loved ones. ”

Asked if he considered there was a shift in the attitude of Turkey in a more conciliatory position given that Ankara had recently agreed to excavations at military zones in the north, Anastasiades said: “We will look at the scope of the negotiations, depending on the course of action. We want to see Turkey go beyond the rhetoric and produce some practical evidence that shows what that rhetoric means. We want to see real progress.”

The joint visit to the CMP lab symbolised the common interest of the leaders in determining fate of the missing, the Greek Cypriot member of the Committee, Nestoras Nestoros said afterwards.

‘It also sends a message that we must continue to work together to be able to give answers in relation to the fate of missing persons, especially to their families… mothers, fathers…,” he said.

He said the two leaders had been briefed on progress but that he had highlighted for them the weaknesses such as identifying possible burial sites, particularly in the north.

“There is interest and we hope to have better results in 2016,” he added.

Speaking of the recent decision by Turkey to allow excavations in military zones in the north, Nestoros said some of these would be in the top ten sites to be investigated in 2016. He added that there were 30 military zones identified.

“Investigations are already at an advanced stage and is expected that in January new documents will be submitted [to the CMP],” he added.

Nestoros said he beleived the visit had brought home to the Turkish Cypriot side the reality of the situation for the relatives. He said that in one particular case for which they had a very limited number of bones, “they realised the tragedy and reality of the situation and what is needed by the relatives”.

He said hundreds of cases still remained unresolved, and the issue of the removal of bones from one burial site to another in the north over the years, also remained an obstacle to completion of the work.

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