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EU MP says she is in favour of truth commission for Cyprus missing persons

missing persons
File photo: Committee of Missing Persons workers searching for remains

EU MP and rapporteur on missing persons in Cyprus Isabel Santos on Sunday said she supports the idea of creating a truth and reconciliation commission on the island, and that the issue of the missing should not be politicised as it is a humanitarian issue.

Santos also called the leaders of the two communities to follow the example of cooperation shown by civil society in both sides.

She added that she believes it is possible for the European Parliament to arrive at a resolution or promote an initiative on missing persons in Cyprus during its current mandate.

The first step, she explained, was a working paper on her contacts in Cyprus which was submitted to the committee on civil liberties (LIBE).

As the rapporteur on the issue, she has already visited Cyprus in July and September, where she met with members of the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP), relatives of missing persons, and officials.

Speaking to CNA the day after the discussion in LIBE held in the presence of Cypriot MPs, Santos said that she presented a working document on results of her visits as well as some recommendations.

“Now it’s time for the different political groups to discuss the report and the next initiatives – those can be one resolution or other initiatives,” she said.

Asked whether there can be progress before the European elections and the end of mandate, Santos said that this should be possible despite the time constraints.

“We are in a very difficult moment in the European Parliament because the mandate is coming to an end, and we have a lot of issues to deliver. But I think that we still have some space to have initiatives during this mandate” Santos added.

The MEP also said the European parliament could contribute to the effort for the opening of more military areas in the north by the Turkish forces for excavations, and that this can happen “by making recommendations to the other European Union institutions” and of course towards Turkey. She noted that it is up to Turkey whether to follow these recommendations.

Responding to a question on whether progress on investigating the fate of missing persons in Cyprus could be one of the requirements for EU – Turkey relations to proceed, Santos noted that this issue is not in her hands, but that the European Commission is the one that can answer that question.

Commenting on her contacts in Cyprus since she took over the file in May, Santos made particular reference to civil society, which, as she said, is “working a lot and both communities are working together which for me was a very positive sign.”

“And it would be good if political actors took this attitude of the civil society working together and tried to come to solutions,” so that there can be “new excavations and new identifications,” she stressed.

“On both sides, you can see families from both sides, they are equally in pain, they are equally suffering. And what we need to do first is not politicise this question and try to answer what it is, really, a humanitarian question,” she said.

Santos also said that the joint visit of the leaders of the two communities to the CMP was a “very positive sign”, adding that she expects more such steps and expressed the hope “that we can see more times, both leaders, in the field acting together and trying to reach solutions together.”

Regarding the proposal for a Truth and Reconciliation Committee, Santos said that “this is something that I encourage in my working paper to be discussed between the two communities.”

“I think both communities need to discuss this and come to a solution,” she added, pointing out that such a mechanism would be positive as “you only can forget what you know”.

“And people really need to know, and really need to know the truth to alleviate their pain and forget their suffering. I think it’s something that can be of relief for both communities and of relief for each person,” she added.

Finally, responding to a question on the issue of information that missing persons that were initially buried in a mass grave in Ornithi were moved to a landfill in Dikomo, which is today a park, the MEP said that during her last visit to Cyprus in September she was told that the issue was pending, but that “a short time was needed” for a solution to be found.

She added that her working paper includes references to this case, and that “it’s natural that the European Parliament addresses this issue if the answer doesn’t come”, expressing thope there will be an answer.

The MEP did not rule out that “perhaps some information needs to be given to the EU because it was with European funds that the little park that is there was built” but added that the authorities are dealing with these questions, and she is also waiting to hear more.

A Committee on Missing Persons has been established, upon agreement between the leaders of the two communities, with the scope of exhuming, identifying and returning to their relatives the remains of 492 Turkish Cypriots and 1,510 Greek Cypriots, who went missing during the inter-communal fighting of 1963-1964 and in 1974.

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