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Famagusta (Cyprus)

3.30 pm

Tom Cox (Tooting) (Lab): I declare my interest in this debate and in Cyprus. I am and have been for many years the chairman of the all-party group on Cyprus, which has members from all the main parties. We have always stated that we support the rights and security of Turkish Cypriots, as we do the Greek Cypriots.

Since the events of 1974, we in this Parliament have kept alive the issues of Cyprus. To many, the issues that Cyprus has faced since those events could and should have been resolved long ago. For many more, and certainly the people of Cyprus, over the past 30 years, there have been hopes for a solution—not any solution, but an honourable, acceptable settlement that would have seen the rebuilding of trust within the communities and the rebuilding and development of the whole of the island. That, sadly, has not taken place.

Although the recent efforts of the Secretary-General of the United Nations were welcome, his proposals, known as the Annan plan, were not acceptable to a large percentage of the Greek Cypriot community. That rejection came as no surprise to many of us. I do not intend to comment on those aspects of the plan that were unacceptable, as we could spend hours discussing what was wrong with the proposals. The fact is that the plan was rejected—in some ways regrettably—because of the issue of Famagusta. That, however, does not mean that we cannot develop proposals for Cyprus and, especially, for the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.

One very clear development would open the way to building a future for the whole of Cyprus: the reopening and the redevelopment of the town, and that means the whole town, of Famagusta. It is not a dream. It is the clear wish of the people, be they Turkish Cypriots or Greek Cypriots, whose links are to that town.

I do not know the extent of the knowledge or involvement of my hon. Friend the Minister who will reply to this debate. As for the co-operation of the two mayors of Famagusta, the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot mayors now meet to discuss their plans, priorities and aspirations for Famagusta—a Famagusta populated by the people of Cyprus. I have with me a letter dated 4 October from the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Tassos Papadopoulos, giving his full support to the sorts of proposals that I will outline. I have met the president of the Famagusta chamber of commerce, Mr. Andreas Matsis. He will work with Greek and Turkish Cypriots to rebuild Famagusta, as will the chamber of commerce.

We start with a vital commitment—the willingness and desire of the two communities to work together. Famagusta has, sadly, been a deserted town for the past 30 years. It was once one of the principal towns on Cyprus and many of us believe that it can be again. That is why I sought this debate. In recent weeks, there has been a marked improvement in the relationship between the communities in Cyprus, and I warmly welcome that. The United Kingdom must be seen to support fully what the people of Cyprus now clearly say that they want.

My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and principal spokespeople from the European Union have all recently said that
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opportunities for Turkish Cypriots must be developed. I put it to the Minister that no area of Cyprus offers the Turkish Cypriot community a greater chance to do that than Famagusta.

Famagusta was once one of the most beautiful and popular tourist areas in Cyprus, and some of the most wonderful hotels in the world were there. All that could happen again. It has excellent harbour facilities, which, when updated, would give it one of the most modern and used ports in that area of the Mediterranean. Famagusta could be the site of the export and import of vast quantities of goods to and from Cyprus. As Cyprus is a member of the European Union, trade links with other countries of the European Union and indeed with the other trading countries of the world would certainly be developed. The Cypriot people have great skills in a wide range of professions. In a reopened, redeveloped Famagusta, there would be every opportunity to develop those skills.

No one would benefit more from such developments than the Turkish Cypriot community. That is to be welcomed, but to many of us the great advantage would be to Cyprus and to its people. It would show them what can be done with real co-operation. As I have said, for some 30 years, much of Famagusta has been deserted. No one can say what the infrastructure of the town is now like, and an in-depth survey of its infrastructure must be a top priority. There are experts who could do that. It would cost money but, in view of recent statements by the European Union, we have a right to look to it for financial support for such a survey, given what can be achieved. Do the Government and the Minister support such a survey?

I put it to the Minister—I ask for his reply to these proposals—that we should invite the two mayors of Famagusta to London to discuss with them and their officials the proposals and plans for the whole of Famagusta. Otherwise, we could ask the British high commissioner in Cyprus to convene a meeting with the same kind of agenda. Let our country, with its long historic links with Cyprus, show the people of Cyprus that we want to work with them and to support them.

I understand that a large sum of European Union money could already be made available to Cyprus. Will the Minister say whether that is correct? If it is, how will that money be spent? In the Cyprus of today, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots clearly want to co-operate, and they have a joint goal in showing that they will use their skills and knowledge for the benefit of the whole island and its people. I have not talked about the events of the past 30 years, because I look to the future for Cyprus and its people, to what can be done and to what the people want done.

I am sure that the Minister knows that in September my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis), whom I am delighted to see with us this   afternoon, the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) and I spoke to the Foreign Secretary in a friendly meeting, during which we discussed issues concerning Cyprus, many of which I have not mentioned in this debate. The Foreign Secretary has met Mr. Talat to talk about Cyprus. Although there may be a lot of discussion still to take place on some issues, if Mr. Talat wishes to see a Cyprus where Turkish Cypriots are respected and have every opportunity to develop their future and a love of their families, he
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should support the proposals that I have outlined today. That is what the Turkish Cypriot mayor of Famagusta wants to see, and he speaks on behalf of his people.

Over the past 30 years, Turkey has had influence in the affairs of northern Cyprus, and now the door to its possible membership of the EU has opened. I hope that the Minister and the Foreign Secretary will make it clear to the Turkish Prime Minister and his fellow Ministers that it is time they listened and supported the wishes of the Turkish Cypriots of Cyprus.

I have outlined not a dream or a possible hope but a real opportunity for Cyprus and its people—that is what the reopening and redevelopment of Famagusta will mean to them. The title of this debate is "Famagusta (Cyprus)". That is what I have spoken about and I hope that the Minister's reply will concentrate on that. Do the British Government support such a proposal? What, if any, would be the legal requirements to start discussions on such a proposal? If we support such a proposal, will we promote it in the EU? Will we enter into discussions, as I have suggested, with Mr. Talat about reopening and developing Famagusta with the two people in the forefront of the proposals—the mayors of Famagusta's Greek and Turkish Cypriots—and the Turkish Government? I have already said that the President of the Republic of Cyprus fully supports such proposals.

Please do not let us lose this golden opportunity, which will offer so much to Cyprus and its people. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply, and I assure him that the people of Cyprus do, too.

3.44 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Tom Cox) on securing this timely debate. He talked about a golden opportunity, and I have stood on the golden sands of the port city of Famagusta, looking at the ghost town of Varosha. That is the correct term   for an extraordinary, historic geography. I saw a once bustling, beautiful port and seaside resort, its skyscrapers, roads and shops all empty, like a Hollywood ghost town. It is a bizarre, eerie sensation when one thinks of the money, economic activity and pleasure and profit from tourism that could be brought to all the people of Cyprus—Greek-speakers and Turkish-speakers alike. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing the debate. I congratulate him sincerely on the comprehensive interventions and tireless work that he has carried out with other colleagues in the House, on both sides of it, who are so committed to securing justice and a peaceful resolution to the Cyprus issue.

Ever since independence in 1960, Cyprus has been a cause of great concern to the House of Commons—not just in the last 30 years but in the last 40 and more. I have visited Cyprus on and off for nearly 30 years. I recently had a positive meeting with President Papadopoulos and other colleagues on the Greek Cypriot side. They are the sovereign Government of the Republic of Cyprus. I also met Mr. Talat and Mr. Serdar Denktas, the leaders of the Turkish Cypriot community.

It is sad that the historic port city of Famagusta, a lively town with a bustling university, and the neighbouring suburb of Varosha, which is one of the most beautiful seaside resorts that I have seen, have been pawns in the various abortive attempts to resolve
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the division of Cyprus. Nothing symbolises the wasted potential of the island so much as the kilometres of shattered and derelict buildings along some of the most idyllic coastline in Europe.

We are keen to ensure that tens of thousands of former residents of Varosha can return to their properties. I am sure that all hon. Members would like to see Greek and Turkish Cypriots working side by side to return the port of Famagusta to being a thriving Mediterranean port working for the mutual benefit of the whole island—the port, of course, trading with Turkey. As Turkey starts its accession talks for full membership of the EU, we want a normalisation of trade between all the island of Cyprus and the important future European Union member state Turkey.

Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green) (Lab): On 17 December, a decision will be made about Turkey's accession negotiations. Is Turkey required to recognise the Republic of Cyprus before then?

Mr. MacShane : It certainly matters that Turkey and Cyprus normalise their relations, but no one is laying down any new conditions for a clear yes on 17 December as a precursor to Turkey starting its accession talks with the EU. In my talks with President Papadopoulos and other Government leaders of the Republic of Cyprus when I was in Nicosia 10 days ago, I was glad that there was no threat that they would try to stop what will, I hope, be an historic decision that will send a signal to the world that that great country, Turkey, is turning its face firmly towards Europe and that, during the long period of accession negotiations, it wants to meet all the criteria that membership of the European Union requires.

Before we get to that point, we must welcome the   proposal that the Government of the Republic of   Cyprus made in July regarding Famagusta and Varosha. It is vital to explore every opportunity for movement and any measure that might contribute to a climate of increased trust and confidence between the two communities. Such measures need to be mutually agreed. They must be balanced and realistic and they must take us forward.

Under the last version of the Annan plan, the Turkish Cypriots would have been able to operate Famagusta port as part of the Turkish Cypriot state, and Varosha would have been returned to its Greek Cypriot owners. Although I know that the July offer was made in good faith, and I welcome the initiative of Nicosia, it is hard to understand why the Turkish Cypriots should be asked to settle for any less today. That is why I welcome the desire for any move or dialogue. I welcome the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting that the respective leaders of the communities of Famagusta and Varosha should meet to discuss the matter and take it forward. In my meetings with Mr. Papadopoulos and Mr. Talat, I suggested that the two of them should find ways of meeting together or, if they cannot for whatever protocol reasons, they should invite their officials to find places and ways of meeting to discuss how the impasse arising out of the Greek Cypriot rejection of the Annan proposals in April can be taken forward.
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The sort of initiative that my hon. Friend referred to is a positive way forward. Of course, it will need backing and the agreement of leaders at a higher level but, if we can find a means of taking it forward, I will welcome that and I am happy to ask the high commissioner in   Nicosia to see what he can do to facilitate any such   meeting. I strongly welcome my hon. Friend's proposals.

The Government of the Republic of Cyprus must now work with the Turkish Cypriot side to examine how the ideas for Famagusta can be taken forward. The international community has done its best to find a solution. We sent our finest diplomats from New York and London and people from Ankara and Athens have also had something to say, but a vote took place. We are all democratically elected here and we live and die by votes, so we must abide by that decision. That is why I said in Cyprus that we must bring the Cyprus problem back to the people of Cyprus, back to the two communities and back to their elected leaders to meet, to discuss and to find ways forward.

3.52 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

4.22 pm

On resuming—

Mr. MacShane : A solution to the stagnation of Varosha   needs to be found sooner rather than later, as Mr. Yiannis Skordis, speaking on behalf of its former residents, told The Independent on 26 April:

Mr. Skordis is a mayor who is unable to live in his own community, but his words are absolutely right.

In the same article, a young Turkish Cypriot, Mr. Sherer Sever, who flew back from his PhD studies in London to vote yes in the referendum, stated:

I completely agree with what Mr. Sherer Sever—I hope now Dr. Sherer Sever—said.

I wish that many hon. Members could visit the area, as I did, and see from afar the ghost town of Varosha. They would realise what an affront it is to all European norms and values that it cannot be used for its purpose of allowing people to have very pleasant holidays and of bringing enormous economic benefits to Turkish and Greek Cypriots alike.

I discussed Varosha, Famagusta and many other issues during an extremely useful visit to Cyprus a little under two weeks ago. Cyprus is a valued friend and partner of the United Kingdom and the European Union. We must work together to promote an open,   dynamic and globally competitive EU. With its unparalleled location, Famagusta has an important role to play as the EU looks to its southern borders for new trading opportunities.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting asked about EU funds. I can report that €259 million has been allocated to help with the development of northern Cyprus. In my view, some of that money could help to unblock the Famagusta-Varosha problem.

Dr. Vis : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. MacShane : If I may, I had better finish my speech. The debate is short, despite the Divisions that we had.

Confidence-building measures are an important step towards achieving that shared vision and any measures that can help to build trade links and reduce the economic gap between the two communities, and between Cyprus and the rest of the world, will make reunification more likely, easier to consolidate and less costly. Trade will increase trust and lay the foundations for co-operation in a reunified Cyprus. I say again that the tourist trade is the obvious breadwinner for that stunningly beautiful island. A widening wealth gap and continued economic division will make a solution much more difficult.

During my visit, my friends in the Cyprus Government expressed the well-known demands for a new approach from Turkey on a number of issues that prevent Cyprus exercising its full sovereignty on trade and other issues. The British Government understand such concerns—I am grateful to my hon. Friends here and to other hon. Members who draw them to my attention regularly—just as we understand the concerns of our friends in the Turkish Cypriot community that economic development and normal tourism, trade and travel are not on offer to them despite their clear vote in April in favour of the plan, backed by the United Nations and every EU Government, to create a united Cyprus.

Britain wants to see trade develop in Cyprus on the basis of EU norms, and that means trade in all directions, in all sectors, 360 degrees around the compass. Trade in the EU and all parts of EU member states is open, normal and no longer controlled by Governments or state-linked bodies. Low-cost airlines can land their planes freely in any airport of their choosing in the EU without let or hindrance by
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Governments. I hope to see flights to all parts of Cyprus on the basis of commercial viability, not political considerations.

The whole atmosphere would be greatly helped if relations between Ankara and Nicosia could be normalised. It is for the political leaders in those cities to decide whether they can find a means of dialogue, as one sovereign republic to another, to normalise their relations. There is no question of the United Kingdom recognising the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. However, many of my colleagues are asking what practical steps are being taken by all of us as EU member states to meet the "determined" wish of the EU Council of Ministers of 26 April to end the isolation of Turkish Cypriots. That will require a new approach as well.

As I said earlier, I am glad that my talks in Cyprus confirmed the long-held views of the elected leaders of the Republic of Cyprus that no one should seek to veto Turkey's application in December. That will be the beginning of a great deal of hard work, over a number of years, for Ankara. Once the negotiations start, another question will arise: when will Ankara and Nicosia move to normalise their relations, as is the case between all EU member states and between those seeking to join the EU, such as the Balkan states and Turkey?

It is an anomaly that Turkey does not have normal diplomatic relations with one of the 25 EU member states with which it has to negotiate to join the European Union. I hope that that can be solved, although there is no question of its being a precondition. That normalisation should also involve considering the number of troops stationed in Cyprus and the immense amount of money spent by Ankara and the Cyprus Government in Nicosia to maintain troop levels. There are more than two divisions of Turkish troops, and I was informed that £100 million is spent each year. There is a conscription period of more than two years on the Greek Cypriot side. Those are some of the issues that will have to be discussed and resolved soon—the sooner, the better.

In the meantime, if we could start local, serious discussions on finding a way forward on Famagusta and Varosha, no Government would be more delighted than ours. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting for making his distinguished contribution towards finding a solution to this continuing problem.
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