UN concerned at Turkish move to open up Cypriot beach

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern Tuesday over Turkey's decision to open to the public a beach in Cyprus that has been closed since war divided the island 46 years ago.

He warned against “unilateral actions" that could heighten tensions and undermine chances for a resumption of peace talks.

Guterres' spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said in a statement that the U.N. chief urged all sides to enter into talks to resolve differences and repeated his readiness to arrange such a meeting.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell echoed Guterres, saying the 27-member bloc is “deeply concerned” about the development that “will cause greater tensions and may complicate efforts” to restart negotiations.

“What is urgent now is to rebuild trust and not to create greater divisions," Borrell said in a statement, adding that the EU is in contact with the U.N. and is keeping a close eye on the situation.

The statements came after the Cypriot government said it would lodge formal protests at the U.N., the European Union and other international organization over the move to allow access to the sand in front of fenced-off Varosha, a suburb of Famagusta that has been abandoned for 46 years.

Cyprus government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said the move contravenes international law and U.N. Security Council resolutions on Varosha.

Greece's Foreign Ministry also condemned the decision as a “flagrant violation” of U.N. decisions and said Athens would back the Cypriot government's efforts.

Turkey said it is just the beach being opened Thursday, and the ghost town itself will be left alone for now.

The Cypriot government fears the move could be the opening salvo to a full grab of the suburb that was the country's premier tourist resort before Turkey invaded in 1974, in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

The suburb's Greek Cypriot residents fled as Turkish troops advanced during the war that split Cyprus along ethnic lines. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot state in the north and keeps more than 35,000 troops there.

In a 1984 resolution, the U.N. Security Council said it considers attempts to settle any part of Varosha — Maras in Turkish — by anyone other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the area to be transferred under U.N. administration.

Dujarric said in the statement that the U.N.'s position remains unchanged on Varosha.

The beachfront’s opening was jointly announced during a news conference in Ankara on Tuesday by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ersin Tatar, the head of the Turkish Cypriot government.

“We hope that Maras will be fully opened for use,” Erdogan said. “We are ready to provide every support to the (Turkish Cypriot) authorities in this regard,”

Erdogan said because it’s only beachfront that belongs to the Turkish Cypriot state, the rights of Varosha’s Greek Cypriot property owners aren’t being violated.

The announcement came five days before Turkish Cypriots vote for a new leader to represent them in planned peace talks. Guterres said he would call a meeting of the two sides in Cyprus as well as officials from the island’s ‘guarantors’ — Greece, Turkey and Britain — after the election to scope out chances for resuming negotiations that had remained frozen since 2017.

Tatar, who is also leader of the right-wing UBP party, is challenging incumbent leftist leader Mustafa Akinci who called out Turkey for meddling in the campaign to boost Tatar's support ahead of the vote.

Akinci said Varosha's opening should be in line with U.N. decisions and international law.

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Associated Press writer Suzan Frazer in Ankara contributed to this report.