HC Deb 29 November 1995 vol 267 cc1151-69

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Streeter.]

9.34 am
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

I should like to thank you, Madam Speaker, for granting this debate, which will be followed with interest in this country and certainly in Cyprus. The elected mayor of Famagusta has travelled from Cyprus to listen to the debate and is in the Strangers Gallery. I extend a warm welcome to him. I should like to declare my interest. I am the chair of the Cyprus group of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) and the hon. Members for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) and for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) are the other officers of the group. Many hon. Members from all parts of the House are on the all-party Cyprus group.

Cyprus has a long historical relationship with the United Kingdom. It is a member of the Commonwealth and the UK is one of the guarantor powers for the island. The country is known and loved by many millions of British people who have visited it over many years. It is most certainly not some faraway country with which we have no links or know little about. Many of us know that President Clerides served with great distinction in the Royal Air Force during the last war, and that many Cypriot men and women bravely fought alongside members of our armed forces.

In 1974, the Turkish army brutally invaded Cyprus. That led to the division of the island and 21 years later it is still occupied and divided. Over the years there have been many discussions that I and many hon. Members had hoped would lead to an honourable settlement under which the rights of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots—I stress, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots—would have been respected and protected. Sadly and tragically, nothing has happened over the past 21 years to bring about a settlement. That is why I sought this debate.

In seeking to overcome problems one has to make a start and over many years Famagusta has been given as the example of where that start could be made. Since the 1974 invasion it has been a ghost town. No one lives there and no business is conducted in the town, yet before 1974 it was one of the most popular areas in Cyprus because it had beautiful beaches and hotels and a thriving business community lived and worked there. All that could return, and it would benefit the people who would live there—the Greek and true Turkish Cypriots whom I wish to see once again becoming the inhabitants of Famagusta.

I have said that Famagusta could provide the start for a settlement and I should like to repeat some of the comments that have been made over the years. In November 1978, just four years after the invasion, a joint British, Canadian and American group produced a document entitled, "Framework for a Solution of the Cyprus Problem". It proposed the immediate resettlement of Famagusta. Paragraph 12 of the document states: In order to promote an atmosphere of goodwill and to resolve pressing humanitarian problems, the … (Famagusta) area shall be resettled under UN auspices in accordance with the attached agreements. Such resettlement shall be initiated in phase with the resumption of full intercommunal negotiations on a comprehensive agreement". In his 1978 report, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations said: The time may now be ripe for a concrete attempt to deal with some important aspects of the existing stalemate on the ground, thus creating an opening for further significant steps. The status of Famagusta which obviously should not be kept in its present empty and decaying condition, may provide an opportunity of the kind. Since Famagusta is situated in the immediate vicinity of the buffer zone and is patrolled by UNFICYP troops, it would be seem natural to envisage United Nations assistance in this connection". There was a high-level agreement between the then President of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. Kyprianou, and the leader of the Turkish Cypriots, Mr. Denktash. It said: Priority will be given to reaching agreement on the resettlement of Famagusta under UN auspices simultaneously with the beginning of the consideration by the interlocutors of the constitutional and territorial aspects of a comprehensive settlement. After agreement on Famagusta has been reached it will be implemented without awaiting the outcome of the discussion on other aspects of the Cyprus problem". That agreement between President Kyprianou and Mr. Denktash was signed on 19 May 1979. Despite all those talks and agreements, nothing has happened.

United Nations Security Council resolution 550 was passed on 11 May 1984. It says that it considers attempts to settle any part of Famagusta by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of this area to the administration of the United Nations". That is why I said earlier that I and our friends on the Conservative Benches want both Turkish and Greek Cypriots living once again in Famagusta. Regrettably, however, nothing happened in the six years after the framework document to which I referred was agreed and recommended in November 1978.

We now reach May 1993 and the report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who proposed a package of confidence-building measures as a first step towards an overall settlement. A key issue in the set of proposals was the opening up of the fenced area of Famagusta to resettlement by its original inhabitants. The area would be placed under UN administration and the owners of property there could obtain possession of their assets. Both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots would be able to enter the area freely and intercommunal contact and trade would he encouraged. The proposal was accepted by the Greek Cypriot side from the outset but the Turkish Cypriot side failed to give a positive response. On 4 April 1994, the Secretary-General reported to the Security Council that the Turkish Cypriot side had not provided the response necessary to make an agreement on the implementation of the confidence-building measures possible". So again, sadly, nothing happened, but the Secretary-General clearly stated who had stopped the progress that we had all been looking for.

In his report to the Security Council on 11 April 1994, the Secretary-General underlined the need to conclude an agreement on the implementation of the confidence-building measures". Against that background and all the recorded facts, can there be any doubt who has stopped the progress that could and should have been made? Is the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office in any doubt? Are the British Government in any doubt? The UN and the Republic of Cyprus clearly support and work for the reopening of Famagusta.

What role does Famagusta play today in the life of Cyprus? None whatever. As I have said, it is a ghost town. Nothing is sadder or more distressing than to go into that region of Cyprus, to stand on high buildings, to look into Famagusta, as I have, and to be with Greek Cypriots who say, "That used to be my home, that used to be where I worked." Twenty-one years after the invasion of Cyprus, that is still the tragic position: Famagusta is a ghost town.

Are the British Government, one of the guarantor powers, happy with that? If not, what are they doing to promote the reopening of Famagusta? I and many other Members of Parliament want there to be meaningful involvement by the British Government. They cannot say, "Oh, we have no role to play," or, "There is too much opposition to this proposal." The only opposition is from Mr. Denktash, but again, as with everything concerning a possible honourable settlement in Cyprus, there is always opposition from Mr. Denktash. The views of the UN, of the United States Congress, of the European Parliament and of the Council of Europe are all on record. They all say the same thing: it is Mr. Denktash and his supporters in Turkey who stopped the progress that we want.

I talk, hon. Members talk and, most certainly, the Republic of Cyprus and the UN talk of the full return of Famagusta to its position before the 1974 invasion. The Minister and his officials must not waste their time talking about a gradual return, some of the town being returned and some of it still remaining under the control of Mr. Denktash. That suggestion is totally unacceptable to hon. Members and to the Republic of Cyprus. So I beg the Minister not to waste his time with such suggestions.

We seek, as the United Nations has sought, the full return of the town of Famagusta to the people to whom it belongs—Greek and Turkish Cypriots. With that return must come the full withdrawal from the town and the area of the Turkish army, its place being taken by United Nations peacekeeping forces.

The case for the return has long been made, and we must ask the Minister why it has not happened. I am sure that the House would like to hear his views. For years, when Cyprus has been discussed in the House, the Government, who have been in power for 16 years, have always made the same statement: "Of course we want a settlement, and we fully support the efforts of the United Nations."

Many of us reply, "Good, but what are you doing to create an initiative leading to discussions and to a settlement for Cyprus and its people?" When has an initiative, any initiative, come from the Government over the past 16 years? It is now 21 years since the invasion, and for 16 of those years the Government have been in power. What can they say now to show their own initiative on Cyprus?

I have here a concurrent resolution published by the United States Congress on 16 March 1995, called, "Supporting a resolution to the long-standing dispute regarding Cyprus". No doubt the Minister has seen it. I could quote at length from that document, but one sentence says it all: President Clinton appointed a Special Presidential Emissary for Cyprus". President Clinton and the United States Congress are now to take an active role on the Cyprus issue. What will be the Government's response? Do they welcome that or will they obstruct it? What is their view? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell us.

We all know about Turkey's role in Cyprus. Last week Mrs. Ciller, the Prime Minister of Turkey, was in London and met our Prime Minister. She can offer nothing to help him in our coming general election, but we all know what she wanted—this country's support for Turkey's application to join the European customs union, and in her forthcoming election campaign.

We all know how high-level politics are conducted; there are trade-offs. So my question to the Minister is: what did Mrs. Ciller offer? Did she commit Turkey to work genuinely now for an honourable settlement in Cyprus? And what did the Prime Minister ask her to do? I hope that the Minister will tell us.

At the beginning of my speech I mentioned Cyprus and membership of the Commonwealth, and a statement on Cyprus was made at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in New Zealand. It gave total support to the United Nations resolutions on Cyprus—resolution 365, passed in 1974, resolution 550, passed in 1984, and resolution 939, passed in 1994. The Heads of Government also called for the withdrawal of all Turkish forces and settlers from … Cyprus, the return of the refugees to their homes"— a statement that was fully endorsed by the conference.

The Commonwealth, the United States Congress and the United Nations all say the same thing. So when shall we at long last start to see commitment and support from the Government for those statements? If the Government support them, there can be no other issue, as I have tried to outline by detailing what successive Secretaries-General of the United Nations have said.

The reopening of the town of Famagusta would start off the actions and policies that would lead to the end of the division that, tragically, still exists in Cyprus, and to the end of the long suffering of both communities, Greek and Turkish. The challenge now is for the Government. What will they do now to back up the attempts that have been made, especially with regard to reopening Famagusta?

9.55 am
Dr. Ian Twinn (Edmonton)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on obtaining the debate, and thank you, Madam Speaker, for granting it. A debate on Famagusta and its occupation for 21 years by Turkish troops is long overdue. But before I make my speech I declare an interest, in that my family and I were the guests of the town council and the mayor of Famagusta for three days in the summer—although, sadly, we could not reach Famagusta itself.

Famagusta was the third largest city in Cyprus, with 60,000 people in its municipal area. Those people are now refugees—some living in other parts of Cyprus, some in my constituency in north London, some in Australia and some in the United States. They are spread around the world, and they have not been back to their homes.

I have not been to Famagusta itself, but like the hon. Member for Tooting I have stood at the barbed wire, looked down into the town and talked to the United Nations troops who keep us out. I have seen the Turkish troop emplacements keeping watch on us as we look down at the ghost town of Varosha, a suburb of Famagusta that was cynically fenced off by the Turks so that it could not be occupied.

Varosha now stands crumbling and overgrown; in people's homes the curtains blow in the wind and their goods—washing machines, televisions and other personal possessions—have been looted by Turkish troops. Family photographs still stand there in place.

I am sure that no hon. Member who meets refugees from anywhere in the world can fail to be moved by their personal circumstances, but Greek Cypriots can go to the dividing line, the green line, today and see their homes, their gardens and their fruit trees—but they cannot get to them. At the same time they know that their possessions are not being used by anyone else, but are being wasted in the most cynical way by the Turkish Cypriot administration that has taken possession of more than one third of the island of Cyprus.

That administration is unrecognised by anyone other than Turkey, which has tens of thousands of troops ensuring that it keeps possession of that part of the island. As many as 80,000 settlers have also been brought in from Turkey, in a mass movement of population unprecedented in 20th century Europe. The House should state firmly its total opposition to what has happened in Cyprus over the past 21 years.

The story of Famagusta is the story of Cyprus, and the House cannot discuss the town separately from the issue of what has happened in the whole of Cyprus. The future of Famagusta depends on the future of negotiations and on reaching a settlement which will allow Turkish and Greek Cypriots to live together in peace on their island. It is their island; it does not belong to the 80,000 settlers or to the 40,000 troops. It belongs to Cypriots.

As an officer of the Cyprus committee of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, along with the hon. Member for Tooting, I feel very strongly that I am here to argue for the interests of all Cypriots—not for Greek Cypriots and not for Turkish Cypriots. There is a balance to be achieved. Both communities in Cyprus have every right to expect to live their lives in peace and be able to go to their home areas, to enjoy their own property, whether they are Turkish Cypriots who cannot get down to Paphos where their land was, or Greek Cypriots who cannot get to Famagusta, Kyrenia or Morphou. None such restriction is acceptable. We have a duty to continue trying to achieve a solution in Cyprus which allows all Cypriots to enjoy their own island.

The history of the past 21 years in Cyprus is littered with messages of good will from politicians from around the world. We have already heard that it is littered with UN resolutions. The UN resolutions cannot be objected to; they are wonderful and say exactly what we want to achieve. Yet 21 years on, we have achieved none of it.

Declarations of good will are not enough by themselves. Varosha is still a ghost town. The hotels along the beautiful Famagusta sea front are empty, and when people try to see them, even from the sea, Turkish gunboats appear to turn back local residents. The same is true of Morphou at the other end of the island. It is totally inaccessible to the people to whom it belongs. The same is true of Kyrenia since people fled from the original invasion, never to return and see their homes. We must ask our Government to do everything that they can in the world community to ensure that the Turkish troops and the settlers leave, and that Cyprus is returned to the people to whom it belongs.

None of that of course will be easy—we know that. We can go into great detail about the nature of the 1960s constitution, why it broke down and how the two communities failed to work together. But whatever conclusions we reach, wherever we want to apportion blame, some of the blame has to come back to Britain. We have a strong responsibility in Cyprus. We helped to construct the constitution. We have been close advisers in the post-independence era. We have a duty as one of the three guarantor powers of Cyprus to ensure that it is returned to democratic health and that Turkish and Greek Cypriots are able to enjoy their own land.

So we cannot stand back as a country, whatever some British people say they want. We cannot cynically stand back and allow Cyprus to carry on in the way that it has. Cyprus is divided; it is the only European country divided by barbed wire where troops keep two parts of the same population apart. The capital city of Nicosia is divided. It is a beautiful and wonderful city, and I have been privileged to see both sides of it in recent years. Indeed, I have seen both sides of the same street which had a derelict area in the middle. That is a heart-rending experience for anyone.

One day, I am absolutely sure that the nightmare of Cyprus will end. It is not a question whether Cyprus will remain divided for ever. That will not happen and those people who believe that an acceptable solution has been found in the division of Cyprus—we have heard such sentiments expressed from both sides of the House in the past—are deluding themselves. The interests between Greek and Turkish Cypriots are so strong, the island so small and the economic necessity of getting together so significant, that one day there will he a solution. Therefore, we must turn our minds to what can be done to bring the two communities together.

It is not right for us as foreign politicians in Cyprus to dictate the solution. The days of Britain doing that around the world are over—perhaps that is rather a good thing. We can, however, stand behind both communities and give them the reassurances that they need and ensure that any solution will be fair.

My involvement in Cyprus is very much concerned with helping in any way that I can to bring the two sides together and ensure that a solution becomes possible. I certainly do not accept Turkey's pre-eminent role in that region as being a barrier to a solution in Cyprus. I am afraid that too many people accept that the power which Turkey represents is too important to cross in a region where we look for stability. The occupation of Cyprus by troops is not legitimised by Turkey's obvious power.

While supporting both sides in efforts to get together for talks to try to reach conclusions on what a solution may be, we have at times all been guilty of encouraging the legitimate Government of Cyprus to make concessions, which have been readily accepted as a fact by the Turkish Cypriot Administration. But nothing reciprocal has followed and negotiations have broken down. In subsequent negotiations, the Government's concessions have been taken on board and more has been demanded. There has been a ratchet effect, which we saw with the confidence-building measures and the suggestion that one eighth of Famagusta—the fenced Varosha area—should be made over to some sort of free town.

That was a good idea if it was to be based on moving forward to a solution for the whole of Cyprus. Many of us thought that if that area was just to stand alone as a small gesture, it was not worth having. I am afraid that we are in a such a position now. It is very difficult to imagine anyone putting their money into redeveloping the small, fenced area of Varosha, which would be surrounded by Turkish troops and have inadequate safe access for Greek Cypriots. It has been empty for 21 years, shrubs and trees grow in the roads, buildings are crumbling, and it would cost a lot of money and several years' work to make it inhabitable again.

I would like Famagusta—a much larger area than Varosha—made over as a free town. I would like it to become an economic free zone. It has a tremendous future. That change could happen regardless of whether it would lead to an immediate solution within Cyprus, provided that it was administered by the United Nations as a UN town where there was equal access for both communities.

I speak purely in a personal capacity. As someone who believes passionately in the operations of the free market, perhaps the House will forgive me for thinking that it is a jolly good chance to demonstrate that the free market can bring together people of two communities. Such a move cannot happen with just Varosha because it is too small and insecure for people to commit their capital to it. But that is not what we should be arguing about today. We should be arguing about achieving a solution in Cyprus, not only Famagusta. I do not want Famagusta to be traded off to allow the rest of the northern part of Cyprus to remain occupied—that is not acceptable.

I have been impressed over the years by the position taken by my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government, who have readily understood that Britain has a moral duty in Cyprus and that the status quo in Cyprus is not acceptable. That has to be countered by the fact that we are not a power which can tell the Turks, with the use of military might, to go back where they came from. We have to work in co-operation with our European Union partners and I am glad that we are.

I am also pleased that a firm commitment has been made to begin negotiations six months after the intergovernmental conference, and that Cyprus can look forward to joining the European Union whether or not the Turkish Cypriots want to join. I would much rather the Turkish Cypriots were part of it. None the less, no one can be allowed to blackmail processes surrounding Cyprus's entry into the EU.

I am also encouraged by the fact that the Americans are now turning their minds to what happened in 1974. Given that, and with the President of the United States of America here today, he might like to consider America's part in the events of 1974. With the Congress now thinking positively and in a quite unified way about the future of Cyprus, and with the President putting some energy into the issues in Cyprus, perhaps the President will talk to his Secretary of Defence about the influence that the American defence institutions have on the Turkish military. If the President commits himself to that, it will be the most positive thing that he could do to achieve a settlement in Cyprus.

I shall certainly continue to work hard to ensure that we have a solution. The solution, however, must be just and fair for all Cypriots.

10.9 am

Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on his success in obtaining today's debate. He is well known among hon. Members for his commitment to Cyprus and for having brought the situation there to the attention of the House over many years.

I had the great honour and privilege—I declare an interest—to be a weekend guest at the Morphou municipality's rally in October. The municipality is operating in exile because Morphou, like Famagusta, cannot be visited by Greek Cypriots. People whose roots were there for generation after generation cannot visit their homes. They are prohibited from visiting the graves of their fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, and they cannot tend the orange groves that have been in their families for generations.

It is appropriate that today—21 years after that terrible invasion and occupation of 1974—we are debating the reality of life in Famagusta. What was once a prosperous and thriving place with an extremely successful tourist industry is now a ghost town. For the many tourists who visit Cyprus each year, it must be absolutely inconceivable that there is a part of this beautiful and successful island where nothing moves and where people have given way to rats.

We must examine the overall situation in Cyprus. Twenty-one years after the invasion, many people are still refugees in their own country. There are, of course, no refugee camps in Cyprus because the Republic of Cyprus has absorbed its refugees. They are very successful members of society who play their full part in the political, economic and social fabric of their country. As far as the international community is concerned, that has almost played down the urgency of finding a solution for the problem.

Cyprus is a small country—a small island. It is a member of the United Nations, a member of the Commonwealth and an independent country occupied by a foreign power. At the last count, there were about 400 tanks on that small island, which is an obscenity. That is not right, and it cannot be tolerated.

In the illegally occupied far north of the island there is the scandal of the enclaved people, whose human rights are violated daily. That has been catalogued by the United Nations. There is also the scandal of the missing people. Many families in my constituency—I know that I always say this, but it bears repeating—do not know what has happened to their missing relatives. The time for this debate is short, and I do not want to take up the time of other hon. Members who wish to speak, but in his reply on the future of Famagusta I should like the Minister to concentrate on those missing people.

What will be Britain's role in finding a solution? Britain is a guarantor power and has a very special relationship with Cyprus. In the past 10 years, however, Ministers have paid very few, if any, visits to examine the situation in Cyprus rather than consider the Government's defence role. Will that record change? It is important that Turkey and the illegal regime of Mr. Denktash do not have any veto on Cyprus's application to join the European Union. Some of the Prime Minister's remarks do not fit well with that aim. I should like to hear the Minister give a clear assurance that there will be no veto, nor a de facto veto.

It is important when we debate the situation in Cyprus that we do not merely say that we will support the best endeavours of the United Nations, although those are vital. Britain's importance in the region calls for something more, and we can play a unique role in negotiations with our American partners. In our language, we must not fall into the trap of talking about the situation in Cyprus as if it is some sort of intercommunal dispute between two parties, because it is not. It is a dispute between the sovereign, independent Republic of Cyprus and an illegal regime backed by a foreign occupying power. Our language must be correct.

If we take those actions, I am sure that we will find a just solution for the beautiful places that once were and can again be Famagusta and the island of Cyprus.

10.17 am
Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South)

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on securing this important debate. It is a well-timed debate because tomorrow is St. Andrew's day. St. Andrew is closely associated with the town of Famagusta, and there is great affection among the people of Famagusta for the monastery of Apostolos Andreas, far up in the north-east of the enclaved Karpa peninsula. It may behove the House today to remember the plight of the people who are trapped in that enclave.

Andrew is also the name of Mr. Pouyouros, the mayor of Famagusta, whom we welcome to London today and whose name day is tomorrow. It is therefore particularly appropriate that we have this debate today. I declare an interest. I was briefly the guest of the municipality of Famagusta and that of Morphou at the demonstrations earlier this summer, and I was proud to be able to support the demonstrations against the injustice of the present occupation of northern Cyprus.

I should like to explain the terms Famagusta and Varosha, because there is some confusion about them. Early-day motion 110 deliberately refers to Famagusta-Varosha. Famagusta in Greek is Ammochostos, which means "town covered with sand". That shows the long history of occupation of this site, which goes back more than 30 centuries to the iron-age settlement of Enkomi, through the classical settlement of Salamis—associated with Homeric heroes in ancient history—to the Byzantine era, when the name Ammochostos first appeared.

Famagusta was the name bestowed on the town during the Venetian occupation. It was then one of the biggest harbours and trade centres in the eastern Mediterranean 239912 T and Othello's tower, which was built into the massive walls of old Famagusta, was the inspiration for Shakespeare's play. When the town was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1571, the Greek inhabitants were ejected from the walled city of Famagusta, but they did not leave the area and settled in the suburbs. "Varosh" is the Turkish word for suburb, so Varosha refers to the suburbs of Famagusta.

In modern times, Famagusta has two meanings. The name refers to the old walled town of Famagusta, which dates back to medieval times, and to the walled town and suburbs of Varosha. Famagusta can mean both, and it is important to have that clarified on the record. The British occupied the town in 1878, and I shall mention that again in my concluding remarks.

In the course of its history, Famagusta became one of the jewels in the economy—if not the greatest jewel—of Cyprus. It was not only an important trading centre, but—in more modern times—an important tourist and holiday centre. Golden Sands beach in Famagusta bay is one of the finest beaches in the Mediterranean. The tourist industry was inhibited by the EOKA troubles in the 1950s, but after the independence of Cyprus in 1960 the tourist industry of Famagusta really took off.

In 1974, on the eve of the Turkish invasion, Famagusta was a flourishing economic and cultural centre, and we should remember that a high level of culture had developed there. It is important to note that Famagusta was not overrun in the first invasion of northern Cyprus in July 1974, after which the Turkish army should have withdrawn under the treaty of guarantee. Under that treaty, the Turkish army had the right to intervene to facilitate the restoration of the status quo. When the coup d'état was overthrown in 1974 and the legitimate Government reinstalled, the writ of the Turkish invading forces expired and they should have withdrawn. But they did not, and on 14 August 1974 they launched a second invasion and Famagusta was overrun on 16 August.

It was obvious that the Turkish tanks were overrunning the fertile Mesaoria agricultural plain, and they also took the high and low roads between Famagusta and Nicosia—two of the most important roads on the island. When the Turkish army occupied Famagusta, it expelled the Greek inhabitants. There was a tragic exodus of refugees, and the town was fenced off. The town was not resettled, and Famagusta is almost unique in this sense. It became a ghost town—a term that has been used today and which was coined by a Swedish journalist in 1977 who recorded his visit to the town thus: The asphalt on the roads has cracked in the warm sun and along the sidewalks bushes are growing. Today, September 1977, the breakfast tables are still set, the laundry still hanging and the lamps still burning. Famagusta is a ghost-town". As my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting said, if one goes to an elevated position at Dherenia—the closest village to Famagusta beyond the barbed wire—and looks through binoculars at the skyscraper hotels of the ghost town of Famagusta, one sees the tragic waste of an economic jewel. Adjacent to the barbed wire at Dherenia, there is a house that belongs to the family of a friend of mine, Mikis Xenophontos Ioannou. He would have been here today if business had not otherwise detained him in Cyprus. Xenophontos means the son of Xenophon, and old Xenophon—Mikis's father—rebuilt his house hard up against the barbed wire. That house is still there on the free side of the barbed wire, and that is one of the strongest indications one could have of the attachment that people have to the land that they rightly regard as their own.

I shall read a short excerpt from a poem which gives expression to that feeling. The poem, by Clairi Aggelidou, is called "The Day of Return":

  • "Save the key. It unlocks the house
  • When you go, you can open it up.
  • Keep it in a place that's safe
  • and do clean it up
  • now and again.
  • So it will be ready
  • when they say
  • 'you can return …',
  • I won't return, like I thought,
  • you will,
  • once more you will see
  • the orchard and the walnut tree
  • I planted …
  • Guard the key.
  • Our yard will smell
  • of jasmin flowers
  • the Vine will be in fruit
  • though untrimmed for years."
Two more lines of the poem read:
  • "Do not cry.
  • Just guard the key well."
That is a tragic expression of the feelings of the people of Famagusta for the town which they look upon but to which they cannot return. Mikis Ioannou himself has written much moving poetry about his home town of Famagusta.

I have strong feelings about the town, because I spent some of my formative years in the area. I was a young soldier between the ages of 19 and 21 in the Famagusta area, and Famagusta was, in a sense, my home town. I walked the streets of Famagusta and Varosha, and I recognise the hotels that I can see through binoculars. Mr. Pouyouros was, in a sense, my mayor when I lived in Famagusta, and he has been the mayor of Famagusta from 1953 to the present day. I hope to see the day—I vow to see the day—when Mr. Pouyouros walks freely and with full dignity through the streets of Famagusta once again as its mayor.

The situation in Cyprus is tragic, and the situation of Famagusta within Cyprus is tragic, too—it is a tragedy within a tragedy.

The second invasion was not an afterthought but a land grab, by which those occupying 37 per cent. of the territory secured two thirds or more of the productive capacity of Cyprus, which is contained within their territorial mass.

As the seizure of Famagusta in 1974 was the keystone of the invasion, so Famagusta could be the key to a solution. One might suppose that it has been kept as a bargaining point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting listed the various high-level statements and resolutions between 1978 and 1994, so I will not burden the House by repeating them. In conclusion, I suggest that, after all the years of prevarication, it is time that progress was made on the solution to the Cyprus problem and that a commencement of that solution should be the occupation and resettlement of Famagusta by its legitimate inhabitants—not as a fenced-in enclave, as Mr. Denktash insists, but in the form suggested by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn). Again, I will save time by not alluding further to that suggestion.

At a time when we have seen progress in South Africa, the middle east, Bosnia and, today, in Northern Ireland towards what we hope are solutions to apparently intractable international problems, we must be optimistic and determined that progress can also be made towards a solution to the problem in Cyprus. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting said, the United Kingdom has multiple responsibilities in that respect. As the former colonial power, a senior member of the Commonwealth, which has expressed its support for the United Nations resolutions, a member of the Security Council and of the European Union, I call on the Government to show the renewed determination shown by the American Congress and President Clinton to finding a solution in Cyprus.

In the terms of early-day motion 110, I call upon Her Majesty's Government to press for the restoration of the fabric and infrastructure of Famagusta-Varosha and the resettlement of the town by the legitimate Greek and Turkish residents under the auspices of the United Nations, so that the two communities,"— Turkish and Cypriot— by demonstrating that they can live and work together in peace and friendship, may engender that inter-communal trust and confidence upon which a wider and deeper solution to the Cyprus problem may be securely founded.

10.32 am
Ms Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East)

Like all other hon. Members who have spoken, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on applying for and being granted this Adjournment debate on Famagusta and Cyprus. Once again, my hon. Friend has revealed to the House his extensive knowledge of the situation in Famagusta and Cyprus and his arguments have been backed up by the very evident knowledge of all hon. Members from both sides of the House who have spoken.

Many of us feel that Cyprus does not, perhaps, command much public attention, although people might feel that they now know something about it, rather unexpectedly, because of the evil machinations of one Francis Urquhart in "The Final Cut".

We have heard a rather more accurate picture of events in Cyprus, and much genuine concern about the need to get the reunification process started again and some real progress, from hon. Members on both sides of the House. Many important points have been made in the debate and I echo the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting, and other hon. Members, who said that Famagusta-Varosha is the best place to begin the confidence-building process and progress towards the peaceful reunification of Cyprus.

The history of Famagusta-Varosha is a sad one, as has been pointed out. Although I have not visited the area or viewed it from the barbed wire, which the hon. Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) described, I have none the less been struck by some of the accounts of palm trees piercing through cracked tennis courts and leaning on crumbling rat-infested seaside villas", and here a padlocked Barclays Bank … there a gutted sandwich shop listing the prices of 20 years ago". There is no doubt that Famagusta epitomises the tragedy of the separation and division in Cyprus. People in both communities have been deprived of their homes, indeed of their roots, and forced to move from places in which their families have lived for generations. Even today, people can go to the green line and see their home, but they cannot occupy it.

Like other hon. Members, I pay tribute to the mayor of Famagusta. It is striking that the structures of local government have been kept in place, despite the fact that Varosha is a ghost town. The spirit of a unified Cyprus, which remains strong, is embodied in the work of the mayor and his colleagues, who try to ensure that the community that they once represented in Famagusta survives and has some hope for the future.

As has been said, the area has become the focus of confidence-building measures in Cyprus—measures to try to create conditions for future reunification. It is still true, however, that the level of mistrust is very high. Indeed, I read only a week or so ago press reports of young people shouting insults to each other across the green line that divides the country. Perhaps it is not surprising, although it is highly regrettable, that there is a climate of bitterness—a climate that is not always conducive to long-term living together.

I am also struck, however, by the number of people in Cyprus who want to embark on the confidence-building approach and who see an opportunity to do so in the immediate future. I strongly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), who drew attention not merely to the political but to the economic potential of such measures. As has been said, the area concerned had huge economic potential 20 years ago as a tourist resort and was a centre for service industries and other types of economic activity.

Confidence-building measures would be of immense importance to Turkish as well as to Greek Cypriots. The adjoining area of Turkish Cyprus is not well off economically. We hear many accounts of the increasing economic disparity between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot areas. Greek Cypriots are said to earn, on average, three times as much as Turkish Cypriots and the discrepancy seems to be growing. There is enormous economic potential that can be mobilised for the future.

I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in his reply. I hope that he can give us a progress report on the attempts to move towards confidence building and to finance some economic activity in the area. We know that money is available in the European Union for activities in the Mediterranean. Also, when Cyprus moves towards European Union membership, it will be eligible for EU support. I hope that the Minister will address that point.

In the past few days, we have read many accounts about the European Mediterranean agreement, which brings together a large number of Mediterranean members of the European Union and their neighbours. It includes Cyprus and Turkey as well as Greece, as a Mediterranean member of the European Union. We believe that that is an important framework which can be used to bring both political and economic benefits to the region. We applaud the fact that within the European Mediterranean agreement there are commitments to democracy, human rights and the rule of law as well as to free trade and economic co-operation. We are keen for that to be built on in future.

My hon. Friends have referred to the question of European Union membership for Cyprus. The Labour party is anxious to promote that as much as possible. Indeed, we hope to be in government when we welcome Cyprus into the European Union and to take part in the negotiations with Cyprus, which are due to start six months after the end of the intergovernmental conference which begins next year.

Cyprus's move towards membership of the European Union could be an important part of bringing about the peaceful reunification of the island. For that reason, we want progress. We are aware of the situation in respect of the customs union with Turkey. Although we will continue to express our grave worries about human rights in Turkey, we accept that some moves have been made.

We also understand the dangers of fundamentalism in Turkey and of Turkey's looking too much to the east, rather than the west. I accept those points, but none the less reiterate what my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green said and hope that the Government, as well as the United States, will put pressure on Turkey not only in respect of human rights but to adopt a favourable attitude toward Cyprus's membership of the European Union. As several hon. Members have said, we do not want Turkey to have a veto over Cyprus's membership of the European Union. European Union membership can be part of the solution to the Cyprus problem and we must keep that in mind.

We believe that the future lies with a reunited Cyprus which respects human rights and different cultural and religious traditions and allows them to flourish in the Cyprus and the European Union of the future.

10.42 am
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Davis)

Cyprus matters to the United Kingdom. It is rightly the regular focus of attention in the House and the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) has found an ingenious and appropriate avenue for the discussion of the problem of Cyprus. I congratulate him on that and join him in welcoming the mayor of Famagusta to our proceedings.

This has been a wide-ranging and rather long debate, so I shall be pressed for time. To a large extent, it has also been measured and well informed. I commend hon. Members for that. My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) made a particularly wise contribution.

Famagusta is a window on the serious problems that beset the island of Cyprus. The city, as many hon. Members have said, is a symbol of the long dispute between the two communities—a dispute which has led to the tragic division of the island. The hon. Member for Tooting ranged wide in his speech. The House has said that it expects me to range beyond the troubled boundaries of Famagusta and to recap on Government policy on Cyprus. Indeed, the hon. Member for Tooting asked me what we are doing to promote a settlement. I shall, in the time available, endeavour to answer as many questions as I can on those subjects.

The natural advantage of a good harbour has meant that Famagusta has been at the centre of events that have shaped the eastern Mediterranean. The ancient walled city has been the target of many imperial ambitions. As one of the main emporiums of the Levant in the middle ages, it is not surprising that it became an ethnic and religious melting pot. It is, of course, the "Sea-port Town in Cyprus", the backdrop to the "Cyprus Wars" in "Othello". It is no stranger to war—tens of thousands perished on both sides in the siege laid by the Ottomans in 1570–71, to which the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) referred.

Famagusta retained its economic importance into modern times. In 1960, when Cyprus became independent, it was the island's third city with large Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. The modern commercial town facing the beach became a tourist riviera and thus a significant contributor to the Cypriot economy. The city was the island's principal port until 1974.

The fate of Famagusta and the suburb of Varosha, or New Famagusta—I am grateful to the hon. Member for Knowsley, South for explaining the details of those names—after the Turkish intervention touches a raw nerve for many Cypriots. Its significance for both communities is not difficult to understand. The walled city of Famagusta was a Turkish Cypriot enclave which endured its share of sufferings in the intercommunal violence of the 1960s and 1970s. The 35,000 people who fled Varosha in August 1974 were a substantial portion of the total number of Greek Cypriots displaced during the tragic events of that summer.

The Turkish decision to fence off Varosha and effectively prevent any settlement has created, as many hon. Members have said, one of the strangest sights in Europe. The spectacle of crumbling luxury apartments left to rot for the past 21 years—a ghost town, as hon. Members have called it—is a symbol of the Cyprus problem.

Who has benefited from this monument to waste? Certainly not the Greek Cypriots, who have been deprived of their property for so long; nor the Turkish side, which has to guard a decaying ghost town. It might seem perverse that the international community insists that Varosha, as a fenced-off area with no settlement, retains its special status, but the fact that it is a closed area keeps alive the hope that, one day, its original inhabitants might return.

The Security Council of the United Nations, in its resolution 414 of 15 September 1977, made clear its concern that any moves by Turkish Cypriots to settle Varosha would harm the prospects for a settlement. That is still the position today. The international community has been periodically alarmed by reports of plans to move into parts of Varosha. We continue to believe that any action of that sort in the absence of a settlement would be a setback.

Against that background, it is not hard to understand why Varosha has been at the centre of efforts to reconcile the two communities since 1974. In the sad logic of prolonged disputes, the simple fact is that the Turkish side has something which the other side wants back. In the aftermath of the events of 1974, there were hopes that a solution to Varosha could he found quickly. We have heard a good account of that from the hon. Member for Tooting. As a closed area, there were no serious practical obstacles to handing Varosha back, but repeated efforts to make progress have yet to find an acceptable means to end this absurdity once and for all.

There have been various ideas for resettlement under United Nations control. Indeed, each phase of the all too fitful intercommunal talks has involved a negotiating package for Varosha. Just over a year ago, it seemed that both communities were finally prepared to commit themselves to arrangements which would allow Varosha to come alive again.

During 1993–94, the United Nations Secretary-General and his representatives worked with both communities on a package of confidence-building measures, or CBMs in the Foreign Office jargon. The proposals envisage the resettlement of Varosha as an area for bi-communal contacts and enterprise and the reopening of Nicosia international airport. Both would remain under United Nations control. The package contained real benefits for both communities. The United Nations worked non-stop to close the gap between the sides. Unfortunately, in the end, neither side managed to seize the opportunity. Success would have cleared the way for direct contacts on the basis of a settlement.

Failure meant each side retreating into familiar recriminations. In June 1994, Mr. Denktash set out—admittedly at a very late stage—the circumstances under which he could accept implementation of the confidence-building measures. I can well understand the frustrations of the Greek Cypriot side at that response. I can understand that, after months of waiting for Mr. Denktash to say yes, they felt frustrated when he replied, "Yes, but".

However, we believed that, even at that stage, there was value in pressing on with efforts to reach an agreement on the confidence-building measures. We still believe that such an agreement can only be helpful in achieving the wide objective of a settlement in Cyprus. We believe that the package is still viable, and Mr. Denktash's decision in January to accept the CBM package was a welcome, albeit belated, move. Both leaders would earn the plaudits and the encouragement of the international community if they returned to the CBM package.

As to the Turkish position, I was asked about the meeting that took place between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of Turkey, Mrs. Ciller, last week. They both agreed that it was high time for progress on the issue, and my right hon. Friend left Mrs. Ciller in no doubt about the role that we expect Turkey to play. Turkey can exert a positive influence on Mr. Denktash and we made it clear that we want that to happen.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Davis

I am very short on time and I am afraid that I cannot allow any more interventions.

Why is the situation in Famagusta and Varosha important to the House and to Britain? Human compassion for those of both communities who have suffered is of course one reason, but the wider Cyprus problem and the search for a settlement is an issue at the centre of British foreign policy.

Cyprus has long been important to British interests. I could spend a good deal of time talking about the history of our relationship, but it has been already been recounted by other hon. Members. We do not need to look very far for evidence of the closeness of our relationship. Cyprus draws 1 million British tourists to its shores every year. People of Cypriot origin are part of the landscape in Britain—especially in London—and they have made a welcome contribution to British society.

We also have an important and substantial trading relationship with Cyprus. Some 10 per cent. of all exports to Cyprus—worth £230 million—are British and our imports from Cyprus amount to £136 million. It is also necessary to recall that our two sovereign base areas in Cyprus remain of fundamental strategic importance to the United Kingdom and the west. The Gulf war was a strong and a recent reminder of that fact.

A distinguished British observer of the Cyprus scene during the past three decades has commented: Nobody won and everybody lost by reason of this futile conflict". I agree. The division of Cyprus since 1974 has been damaging and wasteful, as Varosha itself illustrates. It cannot go on. We have always said that the division of the island is unacceptable. Our efforts and those of the international community continue to aim for a solution based on reconciliation between the two communities.

We are bound by history and by a moral duty to do all that we can to help to find a solution. The international community also plays it part, but neither we nor it hold the solution in our hands. Only the main protagonists, the two Cypriot communities, can decide what arrangements they can live with, but we can and must assist with advice, encouragement, support and even a degree of arm-twisting—hon. Members know that I am not very familiar with that—if we judge that it will help.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) took the House through recent developments when we last debated Cyprus. He said then that the status quo was not acceptable, and he was right. I shall now recap events and bring the House up to date on the Cyprus situation.

The United Nations Security Council resolution 939, passed on 29 July 1994, called for a fundamental and far-reaching reflection on ways of approaching the Cyprus problem in a manner that would yield results. It also called for the earliest possible implementation of the confidence-building measures that are so important for the future of Varosha.

In October 1994, the UN Secretary-General invited the two community leaders to talks with his representative in Cyprus. That offered a welcome opportunity for the two leaders to meet face to face and to discuss the issues between them. We were hopeful that a new willingness to compromise was emerging. President Clerides adopted a useful and a positive approach to ways of achieving a settlement, and Mr. Denktash reaffirmed his commitment to a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. We were disappointed that nothing concrete emerged from the meeting, but we remained hopeful that those contacts might form the basis of further contacts.

The United Nations continued its contacts with the two leaders, encouraging them towards a common perception of the kind of trade-offs needed to make real progress. The build-up to elections in northern Cyprus in April inevitably produced a pause in international efforts. As the House knows, Mr. Denktash was re-elected. We shall not let him forget that, during his election campaign, he said that he saw himself as the candidate best fitted to negotiate a settlement for the Turkish Cypriot community.

The House will be aware of the exploratory discussions between representatives from both communities in Cyprus which took place in London in May. The objective of the talks was to generate momentum behind the UN efforts to find a settlement. We felt that that might be achieved through confidential contacts away from the intense gaze of publicity in Cyprus. Both groups met American and British representatives to talk over the issues and to share views on the paths and obstacles to progress. They also had direct discussions with each other.

If I say that there was a helpful exchange of views, hon. Members will know that that is diplomatic language to describe meetings which did not yield as much as we had hoped, but it does not mean that that approach to the issue was worthless. We and the Americans still believe that confidential contacts can provide a way forward. However, I stress the word "confidential"—both communities must resist the urge to play to the gallery.

The British high commissioner and the US ambassador in Nicosia have unstintingly maintained contact with both leaders and urged them to focus on the main ingredients of a settlement. The US presidential envoy, Richard Beattie, will visit Cyprus next week to follow up the London talks. It is important to remember that there are a number of strands to the international efforts to find a settlement. We welcome the appointment of Dick Beattie and we have been fully and closely involved in his activities and initiatives—including the May talks in London—and in preparing the ground for his forthcoming visit to Cyprus. The London talks were a product of our collaboration with the Americans. They were a brave attempt, but they did not constitute a new, self-standing initiative. As I have said, they support the mission of the United Nations Secretary-General.

That is also true of progress on the route now mapped out for Cyprus's accession to the European Union. The House might find it helpful to have an account of where we are on that route. The Republic of Cyprus applied to join the European Union in July 1990. The European Commission submitted an opinion on Cyprus's application in June 1993. The opinion confirmed Cyprus's European identity and character and its vocation to belong to the Community. It also clearly envisaged that the accession process would provide an opportunity to resolve the central elements of the intercommunal dispute—I was pleased to hear the Opposition spokesperson confirm that view today. The opinion states: the fundamental freedoms laid down by the treaty … could not today be exercised over the entirety of the island's territory. These freedoms and rights would have to be guaranteed as part of a comprehensive settlement restoring constitutional arrangements covering the whole of the Republic of Cyprus". In Corfu in June 1994, the Heads of Government of the European Union agreed that Cyprus would be involved in the next stage of enlargement. That view was reaffirmed at the Essen European Council in December 1994. The Commission reviewed the question of Cyprus's accession to the European Union in February, and that review confirmed Cyprus's suitability for accession.

A further step was taken at the Foreign Affairs Council on 6 March. The council's conclusions outlined the circumstances under which accession negotiations will start, six months after the end of the 1996 intergovernmental conference. The Council called for progress in the intercommunal dispute and noted that some useful points had been identified recently.

The European Union's Association Council with Cyprus has since set out a substantial pre-accession strategy, with a structured dialogue. The first ministerial meeting between the 15 European Union countries and Cyprus took place on 21 November. The dialogue on political issues and the pre-accession strategy will serve to bring Cyprus closer to the European Union before formal accession negotiations begin.

Significant progress has been made on the road to Cyprus's accession to the European Union, and we have been at the forefront of that progress. Indeed, in March 1995, President Clerides singled out Britain among EU member states for our helpful contribution regarding Cyprus. We are grateful for his compliment. We have indeed been working hard on Cyprus's behalf.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. Time is up.

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