CYPRUS: Ghost town Varosha used as leverage in Turkey drilling standoff

The fenced-off ghost town Varosha in Turkish-held north of Cyprus has become the latest pawn in the conflict surrounding Turkey’s drilling for natural gas off the island’s shore, reports Bloomberg.

It said the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state has ordered a study to determine owners of properties in Varosha, once the island’s premier tourist resort before it was abandoned and sealed off following the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus.

The move was announced late Tuesday after the European Union said it was mulling possible action against Turkey for drilling within Cyprus’ EEZ.

Turkey is planning to dispatch a second drilling ship off Cyprus on Thursday, Turkish Energy Ministry Fatih Donmez said.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that no one can prevent us from protecting rights of Turkish Cypriots in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey’s army, which seized the northern third of Cyprus in the wake of a failed coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece, kept Varosha closed and uninhabited after its Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled the once-posh suburb next to the port of Famagusta.

The time has come to take a solid step on shuttered Varosha, said Kudret Ozersay, the foreign minister of the self-declared Turkish Cypriot government, which is recognized as a state only by Turkey.

Turkey’s pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper said the plan is to reopen Varosha for settlement.

The town, where ruined beachfront apartment buildings, villas, a fur shop and an Alfa Romeo dealer are partly overrun by ivy, could be a potential target for large-scale investment if the Cypriot conflict is peacefully resolved, said Bloomberg.

The UN Security Council Resolution 550 of 1984 ordered for Varosha to be handed over to the administration of the United Nations, so as to be resettled by its original inhabitants who were forced out.

Turkey has not complied but holds Varosha as a “bargaining chip” to persuade Cyprus into accepting a peace settlement on its terms.

Source: The Financial Mirror