By Angelos Anastasiou
Progress has been made on all issues discussed thus far at the negotiations for a settlement of the Cyprus problem, including territory, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci has said, but noted that the issue of properties is extremely sensitive to Turkish Cypriots, as is political equality and power sharing.
He was speaking in his first live televised interview since being elected leader of the Turkish Cypriot community last April, which lasted two and a half hours, and was televised on Tuesday night.
The Turkish Cypriot leader estimated that total compensation for properties in the north could comes to $25-$30 billion
According to Akinci, it has been agreed that properties will belong to one of 22 categories, but work on the categories’ criteria is still ongoing. He said that his principle is for as few people as possible to be forced to leave their homes, because the pre-1974 status quo is unattainable.
“In these 41 years life has changed significantly, both here and in the south,” Akinci said.
“If there is a belief that the people who lived here 41 years ago will be brought back en masse, that will not happen. It’s not just about these people’s lives; it’s also about their children, who have started new lives.”
Akinci said that reports of agreement that legal owners of properties will have first say post-solution are false. “The owner will be the first to claim the property from the Property Commission within one year, saying: I want to live there, or be compensated, or exchange it with land elsewhere,” Akinci explained.
“Then, the person living in said property will examine the situation. The owner will have the right to stake his claim first, but the person living there will also have rights. These matters have not yet been agreed – they are still under discussion.”
The property criteria should be clear, the Turkish Cypriot leader said, so that property commissions are able to close the issue quickly, adding that no one can be asked to leave without being offered alternative accommodation.
“Properties may be returned, but not on a large scale,” Akinci said.
“Surveys done in the south show that a limited number of Greek Cypriots will return to the north. Of course, fewer people returning means more compensation.”
With regard to funding for compensation, Akinci said the issue is in the international arena, but noted that there are “positive messages” over this matter.
Total compensation for properties in the north could total $25-30 billion, he said, and expressed hope that the international community will help.
Following agreement on properties, discussion can commence on territory, the Turkish Cypriot leader added.
However, Akinci said no agreement has been reached on rotating presidency, which, he noted, is important to the concept of political equality.
“There is reaction in the south over the principle of rotating presidency, but it was part of the Annan plan, and it should be part of this solution, too,” the Turkish Cypriot leader said.
This argument came at odds with Akinci’s stance on President Nicos Anastasiades’ assertion last week that territorial adjustments should include the return of Morphou, as was agreed in the 2004 Annan plan.
“Choosing to accept parts of the Annan Plan when it suits one’s interests is not a right approach in dealing with such issues,” Akinci had replied then.
On the thorny issue of guarantees, the Turkish Cypriot leader said the issue will be discussed at the end of the process and that, if agreement has been reached on the rest of the issues, guarantees will not be an obstacle to the solution.
However, he added that Turkey’s guarantees are of vital importance to Turkish Cypriots, and that, according to surveys, the Turkish Cypriot community will likely reject a proposed solution that does not include Turkish guarantees.
Referring to bizonality, Akinci said that, according to the parameters set by the United Nations, it is “not a situation in which Greek Cypriot majorities in population and property-ownership both in the south and the north can be allowed”.
But, he ceded, territorial concessions will need to be made.
On nationality, Akinci said the so-called citizens of the unrecognised north will become citizens of the unified federal state, noting that there is no issue of 4-to-1 proportionality.
“During the talks, we were asked to give the number of TRNC nationals, and the numbers showed approximately 4 to 1 proportionality,” he explained.
“The Greek Cypriot side wants this ratio to not be disturbed by approving nationality to immigrants from Turkey or Greece. Besides, we have no such intention.”
But it has been agreed, he added, that those who are ‘nationals’ right now will be nationals of unified Cyprus.
On recognition of the illegal breakaway regime in the north, Akinci said Turkey is the only country recognising it, but it is unable to support such recognition, citing sporting events as an example.
“Even as it does not recognise the south, Turkey is unable to meet the obligations of non-recognition,” he said.
Akinci said that, with negotiations continuing at the same pace, a solution by springtime could be possible.
“The March milestone [for holding referenda] had been brought up due to the May elections in the south,” he said.
“I have never spoken of a March milestone – I have merely said that a solution is possible within months.”
Responding to a question, Akinci said direct taxation will be collected by each constituent state, while value-added tax will be collected by the federal government, and that the constituent states will have the right to sign agreements on economic and tourist issues.
In terms of issues relating to the European Union, the Turkish Cypriot leader said preparatory work is being done for the transition to the Euro.
“We must adopt EU standards on technical matters, too, and if we go for a solution in the next year, this may not be possible and a transition period may be required. Harmonisation with EU laws is moving slowly and must be expedited,” he said.