US members of Congress demand end of Turkish occupation of Cyprus
Washington D.C., Jul 23 - A bipartisan group of members of Congress, led by Michael Bilirakis who is co-chair of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus, highlighted the continuing plight of Cyprus as they marked the 31st anniversary of the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus’ northern third.
Addressing the US House of Representatives, Mr. Bilirakis voiced intense objection to the illegal occupation of Cyprus by Turkish troops and declared his “grave concern for the future of the island”.
He said “the Turkish incursion into Cyprus, 30-plus years ago, has rendered a legacy of internal division, and should worry those in this Chamber who cherish freedom and espouse the virtues of democracy”.
Referring to the rejection of the Annan Plan by Greek Cypriots in 2004, Mr. Bilirakis said that he and his colleagues had warned that the plan, as written, was not viable and did not assuage the Greek-Cypriots' security fears.
He remarked that the plan did not include a thorough removal of foreign troops from Cyprus and provided for the continuation of the Treaty of Guarantee, maintaining the guarantor powers, the right to unilaterally intervene in order to preserve the ''constitutional order'' of the United Cyprus Republic and its constituent states.
Additionally, the Annan plan did not provide for a property recovery system that would recognize the rights and interests of displaced Greek-Cypriots, nor did it include a satisfactory property compensation system. It also called for Greek-Cypriots to pay for the loss of their property.
Mr. Bilirakis remarked that had the concerns of the Greek Cypriots been addressed, “I have no doubt that the Annan plan would have received an overwhelming positive vote”.
He noted that Greek-Cypriots should not be blamed for voting against a plan that they believed did not meet the interests of their country and their futures. It is one thing for others to comment on the terms and conditions for settlement, but it is the Cypriots who must live with whatever plan is adopted'', he stressed.
Furthermore, he underlined that the Government of Cyprus continues to emphasize that it remains committed to reunify Cyprus as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with democratic and human rights for all Cypriots.
He cited the Cypriot Government's announcement of a series of measures aimed at assisting those Turkish Cypriots residing under the control of the occupying Turkish army and enhancing their ability to enjoy many of the benefits that the Republic of Cyprus offers to its citizens--including benefits which result from its European Union membership.
Mr. Bilirakis also mentioned that the occupying Turkish regime partially relaxed restrictions that limited travel across the Green Line. Since then, there have been more than five million incident-free border crossings by Turkish and Greek Cypriots to visit areas and homes that were inaccessible to them for over 30 years.
However, Mr. Bilirakis stressed that neither the Cyprus government's benefit package for Turkish-Cypriots, nor the limited lifting of restrictions by Turkey's occupying regime, substitutes for a comprehensive resolution to end Cyprus' divide.
He urged the Bush Administration, the United Nations the European Union, and the Congress to “respect the democratic decision of the Cypriot people, to remain engaged in efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem, and to work toward a fair and lasting reunification of Cyprus”.
Mr. Bilirakis further stressed that as Cyprus works toward reunification it is imperative that leaders and diplomats from the United States and other nations respect and observe Cypriot law and international law in their dealings with Cyprus.
He reminded that he has sent letters to President George W. Bush and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressing concern regarding the legality of US citizens, US government personnel, and members of Congress flying directly from Turkey to the airport at Tymbou in the occupied northern part of Cyprus.
''I think they need to be reminded that the United States recognizes the Republic of Cyprus as the only government of Cyprus, the Republic of Cyprus has not authorized flights into the northern airport, and the Republic of Cyprus and the United States are signatories to the Chicago Convention'', he said.
Other members of Congress who strongly condemned the continued Turkish occupation of part of Cyprus were: New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney, Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, New Jersey Democrat Steven R. Rothman, New York Democrat Joseph Crowley, and New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez.