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Technical committee operations frozen

Antigoni

Instructions issued to the Greek-Cypriot co-chairs of bicommunal technical committees to freeze their operations and meetings, aimed at avoiding turning their work into a substitute for a solution to the Cyprus problem, the government said on Friday.

According to an unnamed source cited by the Cyprus News Agency, the instructions were to run any new initiatives by the chief negotiator’s office, not necessarily to end all work.

Bicommunal technical committees fall under the remit of the chief negotiator’s office, and the source noted that “some committees continue to operate as normal, like the one on Cultural Heritage”.

The clarification followed a flat denial by the government, earlier on Friday, of press reports that it ordered the Greek Cypriot heads of bicommunal technical committees to cease all operations until further notice.

Commenting on a report by local daily Politis, deputy government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos had said the government has “issued no instructions to end or freeze the operations of the bicommunal technical committees, which help and support efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus problem” and deemed the allegations “completely baseless”.

The paper’s report headlined ‘The technical committees on ice’, claimed the Presidential Palace instructed the heads of “most technical committees” to suspend operations and take no new initiatives, prompting their reaction.

The instructions, it added, came in early July, following the collapse of the international Conference on Cyprus at Crans-Montana.

Politis noted that the instructions were to run any new actions by the government before committing to them, in order to ensure that they wouldn’t be exploited by the other side as a “substitute to a solution”.

However, already-scheduled actions, including those of the committee on cultural heritage, crossing points, and crisis-management, were to continue as normal.

In response to the government’s denial on Friday, Greek-Cypriot co-chair of the committee on culture Androulla Vasiliou released the full text of the instruction, emailed to the committee Greek-Cypriot co-chairs.

“Following the conclusion of the Conference on Cyprus at Crans Montana without a result, and bearing in mind the crucial ongoing phase, it is the request of the chief negotiator and the coordinator of the technical committees that you adopt a standby stance with regard to the committees’ actions and meetings,” the email said.

“Discretion by everyone is deemed necessary, in order to allow (Turkish Cypriot) intentions for substantive negotiations to be revealed. Therefore, the request is that further initiatives are avoided at present, and consult with us in case any issues within your technical committee’s mandate is made public.”

As a result of the instruction, one of the committee’s signature annual events – staging a play at the ancient Salamina theatre in the Turkish-held part of Cyprus – has not even been tabled for committee-level discussion yet.

The play staged by the Cyprus Theatre Organisation this year is ‘Perses’, a tragedy by Aeschylus, and it should normally be slated for staging at Salamina, just like ‘Ippolytos’ in 2015 and ‘Antigone’ in 2016.

But the fact that the committee has not convened meant that the issue was not even tabled, although Vasiliou has not ruled out the possibility of taking up the issue with her Turkish Cypriot counterpart soon.

The technical committee on culture was set up in 2015 by a decision of President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.

Its decision to stage one play annually at Salamina was met with strong criticism by opposition parties, which claimed it normalizes the occupation, and even prompted a controversial probe by auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides into the money sunk in last year’s production of ‘Antigone’.

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