Cyprus rejects key part of refugee deal with Turkey

North Cyprus government says Turkey must first meet its longstanding demands for recognition and the opening of trade, ports and airports

Cyprus rejects key part of refugee deal with Turkey

World Bulletin / News Desk

Cyprus stood firm on Tuesday in opposing accelerated EU accession talks for Turkey, complicating the bloc's drive for a breakthrough agreement with Ankara next week on curbing the refugee crisis.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stunned his 28 EU counterparts in Brussels on Monday with an offer to take back all illegal refugees landing on the overstretched Greek islands in return for a package of concessions including progress in its drawn-out talks on joining the bloc.

The Mediterranean island's internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government is not recognised by Ankara and has blocked six key parts of its negotiations for membership since 2009, bringing them to an effective halt.

Davutoglu called for the opening of five more "chapters" in Turkey's EU accession process -- so far it has completed just one out of more than 30.

But the Cyprus government said Turkey must first meet its longstanding demands for recognition and the opening of trade, ports and airports.

"Regarding Turkey's demand for the opening of chapters unilaterally frozen by the Republic of Cyprus... the president remained firm in the position... that the opening of any chapters requires the fulfilment by Turkey of its obligations," government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said.

The Cyprus problem has been a thorn in Turkey's bid for membership of the European bloc ever since it was submitted in 1987. 

Turkish troops invaded the island's northern third in 1974 in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece, and Turkish Cypriot leaders declared a breakaway state nine years later.

UN efforts to reunify the island before it joined the EU in 2004 failed and only resumed in earnest last May.

Cyprus's objections are just one of the details that must be thrashed out to turn Turkey's proposals into a final deal at a European summit in Brussels on March 17-18.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker called the plan a "real game changer". 

But a proposal for the EU to resettle one Syrian living in Turkey on its territory for every Syrian refugee it takes back from Greece ran into a veto threat from Hungary's hardline anti-immigration Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The Cyprus government acknowledged that the refugees crisis was hurting its close ally Greece, and thanked Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and other European leaders for the "understanding and support they demonstrated" of its position on Turkish accession.

Last Mod: 08 Mart 2016, 15:15
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