Government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis on Thursday reiterated that President Nikos Christodoulides was ready to meet with Turkish leader Ersin Tatar at any time.

Letymbiotis’ statements to CyBC came following reports of a phone call by the Turkish Cypriot leader asking for the president to respect the agreement for the start of excavations in a mass missing persons’ grave in Aloda.

Tatar, in a written statement, said that negotiations can begin immediately upon confirmation of sovereign and international equal status.

Christodoulides, speaking at an event on Wednesday at the Paphos chamber of commerce, said, “I have publicly and repeatedly expressed my readiness to meet with Mr Tatar…for either a social meeting or [one] in the framework of attempting to restart talks.”

Christodoulides stated that he had also requested for the leaders to visit the anthropological centre of the committee on missing persons (CMP) together.

“From my part, I am ready for such a meeting even tomorrow,” he said.

Earlier reports said attempts by UN special representative Colin Stewart to bring Christodoulides and Tatar to a face-to-face meeting have so far failed.

According to the Cyprus News Agency (CNA), Tatar expressed surprise at Christodoulides’ statements on Wednesday and said he felt the need to respond to prevent public opinion and the Greek Cypriot people from being misled.

Tatar claimed that a Greek Cypriot member of the CMP is preventing the start of excavations in an area believed to be the site of a mass grave of Turkish Cypriots missing since 1974, despite a mutual agreement to begin last January.

Letymbiotis, for his part, told CyBC that “all possible efforts are being made towards identifying missing persons of both ethnicities,” and denied that there had been any deliberate stalling.

“The president will not engage in a blame game,” the government spokesman said, reiterating that Christodoulides had repeatedly publicly expressed his willingness to meet the Turkish Cypriot leader, since taking the office.

The Turkish Cypriot leader, however, claimed he had been trying for two weeks to resolve the CMP impasse with the Greek Cypriot side and the UN.

“After the continued reaction of the Greek Cypriot authorities against our efforts, I intervened and called the Greek Cypriot leader yesterday. I informed him that this excavation, which has already been decided, should begin immediately, that such an important humanitarian issue should not be mixed with political considerations, but more importantly, that the relatives of the missing were waiting for this work to begin for years,” Tatar stated.

The Turkish Cypriot leader added that he had expressed to Christodoulides his readiness to examine the work of the CMP in a joint visit to the site, and after to support the important humanitarian activity in a joint statement.

Tatar further claimed that a draft statement to be made following the aforementioned visit had already been prepared two weeks ago.

It is unacceptable for us to backtrack on the joint agreement for political reasons Tatar said.

“This also applies to the negotiations on the Cyprus issue. Our position is clear. I would like to repeat that the negotiations can start immediately after confirmation of sovereign equality and equal international status,” the Turkish Cypriot leader concluded.