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Media Watch 2003

29 August 2003
Source: Cyprus Weekly
Author: Philippos Stylianou
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Weekly of Nicosia on 29 August 2003.
Properties issue heats up as refugees threaten action


The government came under more heat this week on the burning issue of properties, as another large group of refugees were threatening to apply for compensation to the so-called “property commission” set up by the pseudostate. 

The development has intensified calls from several quarters for the penalisation of this sort of behaviour, culminating in opposition Disy tabling a private bill at the House yesterday. But at the same time the issue has brought to the fore the disgruntlement of refugees over the failure of successive governments to achieve an equal sharing of the invasion burdens among the population. 

President Papadopoulos confirmed Monday that he had received a letter by a Famagusta refugee on behalf of 200 others, stating that unless the loans they had been given by a state agency were frozen, they would resort to the “property commission” in the occupied areas.

Christos Polycarpou and 15 other Morphou refugees have already written to occupation leader Rauf Denktash about their intention to submit applications to the “commission”, but so far they have refrained from so doing.

Serious issue
“It is a serious issue and cannot be easily answered,” Papadopoulos said when asked by journalists what he intended to do about the letter of the 200 refugee property owners. 

He reiterated however that the Greek Cypriot side would be committing “a great tactical and policy error if it placed limitations to the citizen’s right to dispose of his property in any way he liked.”

The President added that for this reason he had discouraged attempts to prevent Polycarpou from following his course of action. 

The Government and all political parties have nevertheless morally condemned any Greek Cypriot recourse to the pseudostate’s property compensation mechanisms, stressing that such actions jeopardised the whole property aspect of the Cyprus problem and its political solution at large.

Coalition partner Edek president Yiannakis Omirou did not mince his words when he described persons applying to the pseudostate as collaborators of the occupation forces.

Compromise
The Government is particularly worried that such actions would greatly compromise its arguments before the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against accepting the so-called property commission in the occupied part of Cyprus and subsequent appeals to the illegal Turkish Cypriot courts, as offering local legal remedies before individual applications can be made to the ECHR. 
The ECHR has already informed Greek Cypriot lawyers handling property cases of refugees against Turkey, as well as the Cypriot Government, to prepare their observations on the pseudostate “law” purporting to set up the “property commission.” 

According to press reports, the Government has hired the services of two foreign international legal experts to advise it on the issue and their preliminary opinion is already in the hands of the President.

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State could have helped refugees more

Notwithstanding the general condemnation of individual Greek Cypriot overtures to the pseudostate’s “property commission”, it is now tacitly admitted that they would most probably have not occured if the state had offered more effective support to the plagued refugees to better their lot after the invasion.

According to a Cyprus University study commissioned by the previous government, the accumulated private economic losses of the invasion had reached Q6billion by 1997, with several million of pounds being added annually from loss of income. 

The study said that an equal sharing of the invasion losses would have been possible through a capital gains tax in the first years immediately after 1974, but as a long time had passed this was now unattainable. 

It suggested other possible measures to rectify the situation, such as an annual state subsidy to refugees to counterbalance their loss of property use or, alternatively the issue of government stocks against real estate in the occupied areas with a fixed return.

The Government Spokesman Kypros Chrystostomides stressed that the Government would honour its election commitments to the refugees, which included the restoration of their credit worthiness through schemes based also on the Cyprus University study.

Credit worthiness
The chairman of the Parliamentary Refugee Committee, Akel MP Aristophanis Georghiou, said that the issue was open before it and that it had already made suggestions, but noted the initiative belonged to the executive authority.

Referring to the letter of the 200 Famagusta refugees to the President, Georghiou said that so far 10,000 refugees had benefited from loans through the state Agency for the Equal Sharing of the Invasion Losses and the Committee would not act under blackmail because some of them were defaulting on their instalments. 

But Disy MP and Parliamentary Committee member Lefteris Papachristoforou argued that the problem of refugee credit worthiness could not be solved by loans, because the increasing cost of the invasion far surpassed any financial help given to the refugees.

He stressed the need of adopting without further delay the suggestions of the University study and those of the Committee and reminded that he has already asked for the issue to be debated in the House.

Christoforou criticised the former Government, even though supported by his own party, for having spent Q100,000 on commissioning the University study but did nothing to implement it.

Lawyer Achilleas Demetriades who represents Greek Cypriot refugees before the ECHR against Turkey told the Cyprus Weekly that “what the ordinary people have at the top of their agenda is the property issue, and unless this begins to be solved, we shall be having all sorts of problems.”

Demetriades said that the government must not stand idly by waiting for the solution of the Cyprus problem before it does anything about properties, but should start dealing with the matter now, even in a piecemeal way. He stressed that he did not mean only the Greek Cypriot properties but also the Turkish Cypriot ones."