With Turkey's Backing, North Cyprus to Reopen Disputed No-man's Land Beach

Once home to 39,000 Greek Cypriots, the beach has been abandoned since the 1974 conflict split the island, and threatens to reignite tensions with Nicosia

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A woman stands at the beach with Famagusta or Varosha beach in the abandoned city, seen in the background, January 6, 2019.
A woman stands at the beach with Famagusta or Varosha beach in the abandoned city, seen in the background, January 6, 2019.Credit: AP Photo/Petros Karadjias

Northern Cyprus said Thursday it will reopen the beach area of the abandoned town of Varosha, in an announcement that is likely to stoke tensions with Greek Cypriots and conjures memories of a 1974 Turkish invasion that split the island.

Ersin Tatar, the breakaway state's premier, made the announcement in Ankara alongside Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan who said he backed the decision on Varosha, a former resort abandoned in no-man's land for decades.

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The move could weigh on Turkey's row with European Union members Cyprus and Greece over territorial rights in the Eastern Mediterranean. Tensions had eased after Ankara and Athens agreed to resume talks.

"God willing, we will start to use the Maras beach on Thursday morning together with our people," Tatar said, using Varosha's Turkish name. Northern Cyprus is only recognized by Turkey.

The move is likely to anger Greek Cypriots on the Mediterranean island, 39,000 of whom once lived in Varosha before fleeing advancing Turkish forces 46 years ago.

Nicosia had already been in touch with the governments of the five permanent members of the Security Council in the hours leading up to the announcement, people with knowledge of the matter said.

A southern suburb of Famagusta city, Varosha has been empty since the invasion, following a brief Greek-inspired coup, that divided the island into Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides.

Tatar had signalled steps to reopen Varosha in August, saying a revival of the area, which contains derelict hotels, churches and residences, would bring trade and tourism benefits.

Presidential elections are scheduled to be held in Northern Cyprus on Sunday, with Tatar a candidate.

Varosha has been off limits along ceasefire lines to all but the Turkish military since 1974 and has stood as a bargaining chip in the decades-long dispute between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Several peacemaking efforts have made no significant progress and the discovery of offshore energy resources has complicated efforts to resolve the island's partition.

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