Cyprus verdict stuns Turkey

Landmark ruling may unleash wave of property claims on troubled island
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The Independent Online
In a judgement with potentially far-reaching implications for the Cyprus dispute, the European Court of Human Rights ruled yesterday that Turkey had violated the rights of a Greek Cypriot who lost access to her property after the 1974 Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus.

It was the first time an international court had held Turkey responsible for the consequences of its invasion, which displaced of at least 160,000 Greek Cypriots from the northern third of the island.

"It is a great success. I believe its effects could be enormous," said President Glafcos Clerides, the Greek Cypriot who heads the internationally recognised state of Cyprus. "If we take into account those who were forced to leave their homes, then the effects could be even greater."

The Strasbourg-based court, an arm of the 40-nation Council of Europe, issued its judgement at a time when the United States, Britain and its European Union allies are intensifying efforts to make 1997 the year of a settlement of the Cyprus dispute. There was no immediate reaction from Turkey, but the prospect of a wave of Greek Cypriot legal claims stemming from the court's judgement may stiffen the resolve of the Turkish government and its Turkish Cypriot allies to maintain a hard negotiating stance.

Since the Turkish invasion, Cyprus has become an island of two ethnically pure sectors, with only a handful of Greeks left in the north and almost no Turks in the south. Much Greek property in the north has ended up in the hands of Turkish Cypriots or settlers from the Turkish mainland.

The court ruled by 11 votes to six that Turkey had violated the rights of Titina Loizidou, a tourist guide, by denying her access to plots of land that she owned in the northern coastal resort of Kyrenia. She launched her case after being detained by Turkish Cypriot police in 1989 as she entered the Turkish-controlled sector of Nicosia.

Accompanied by a group called "Women Walk Home", Ms Loizidou was trying to draw attention to the fate of Greek Cypriots displaced from northern Cyprus in 1974. The Turkish Cypriot authorities later insisted on her return to the Greek sector of Nicosia.

One vital element of the court's judgement was that Turkey, rather than the self-proclaimed "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", was responsible for what happened to Ms Loizidou. Turkey, which keeps 30,000 troops in northern Cyprus and is the only country to recognise the TRNC, argued that it could not be responsible since the events took place outside the territory of Turkey.

The Council of Europe said in a statement: "In the court's view, it was obvious from the large number of troops engaged in active duties in northern Cyprus that the Turkish army exercised effective overall control there. In the circumstances of the case, this entailed Turkey's responsibility for the policies and actions of the `TRNC'".

The court dismissed Turkey's argument that it had no authority to consider the case since it related to events before 1990, when Turkey accepted the court's compulsory jurisdiction.

The court deferred judgement on Ms Loizidou's claim for compensation and asked the Turkish government to submit its observations within six months. The court also dismissed her claim that she had lost her home, commenting that she had not been living in Kyrenia at the time.