January will be an intensive month for the issue of missing persons, Humanitarian Affairs Commissioner Fotis Fotiou told the Cyprus News Agency in an interview on Sunday.
Fotiou said that not only would excavations begin at ten military sites in the north but also, the remains of a number of missing Greeks would be handed over to their relatives on January 19 at a special ceremony attended by Greek government officials.
“The remains will then be transported by C30 military plane,” he said, adding that arrangements for the ceremony would be discussed this coming Friday at his office with representatives from the Greek army, the Cypriot National Guard and the police.
Fotiou said that in a few of the Greek cases, some years ago misidentified remains had been given to the Greek families and now there were some issues of returning those remains for correct identification as some of the families did not want to go through it all again and had buried what they thought were their loved ones remains. He said he would be meeting the families again this month to try and resolve the problem.
Another problem they had encountered, he added was a series of bones from the Nicosia cemetery that had been doused with chemicals, making it difficult to extract DNA at this stage. “Unfortunately someone for some reason wanted the remains not to smell and now we cannot isolate genetic material,” Fotiou said.
“We found a laboratory belonging to the US Ministry of Defence that is willing to receive samples and the next ten days we will send them to see if they can isolate the genetic material.”
Meanwhile excavations in the north at the ten military sites had been agreed. “This is a positive step but but not enough to solve the issue of missing persons once and for all,” he said, adding that in two thirds of cases, no whereabouts had been established.
“The most important step would be for Turkey to give information from its army archives on the burial sites around Kyrenia, where the major fighting happened [in 1974],” Fotiou said.
Referring to the Greek Noratlas plane – shot down in 1974 by friendly fire with 31 fatalities – which was uncovered at the Tomb of Makedonitissa in Nicosia last year, Fotiou said they were in the final phase of identifications. A ceremony for the return of the remains would be held in February or March, he said.
Authorities have also begun returning the site to its original state and hope to have the work completed by July, in time for the political anniversaries.