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Friday, January 13, 2006

Strained Relations?

Anyone reading the Cypriot press lately is undoubtedly aware that there has been controversy and strained relations between Britain and the Cypriot government. In fact, relations between the two governments have been cool since the introduction of the Annan plan. More recently, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw planned a fence-mending visit to Cyprus this month but the trip is now unlikely to occur due to another dispute...this one involving Mr. Straw's meeting with Mr. Talat. The government of RoC is seeking a neutral venue for the meeting instead of the one planned in the Presidential offices of the secessionist entity, worried the meeting itself would give political credence to the breakaway state. While relations with Blair’s government have not been smooth...voices of support have been heard from members of the UK parliament, particularly from the conservatives. Two articles in the Cypriot press mentioning two British MPs...the first article talks about Conservative MP Roger Gale speaking at the House of Commons on property matters in occupied North.

British MP condemns Cherie Blair’s involvement in property case

British MP Roger Gale (Conservative for North Thanet) has condemned the involvement of the Prime Minister’s wife, Cherie Blair, in a property case relating to occupied Cyprus. Speaking at the House of Commons on Monday, following receipt of an answer by Minister Douglas Alexander to a written parliamentary question, Mr Gale said the Downing Street position seemed inconsistent with the Foreign Office position with regard to property matters in occupied Cyprus. He then explained that it was “not good enough for the Prime Minister’s wife, acting in any ‘professional’ capacity, to defend the interests of those exploiting stolen and occupied property in the northern part of the island of Cyprus” while the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was declaring that the British Government warned British citizens of the risks of purchasing property there. Mr Gale also noted that Cherie Blair’s involvement in a case “allegedly funded by a former North London Turkish Cypriot Labour Councillor and seeking to defend the interests of British nationals who claim to ‘own’ a villa built on land belonging to a Greek Cypriot refugee, is clearly designed to bestow legitimacy upon an illegal regime and upon the illegal development of the villas that are now smothering the northern part of the island”. “Once again it would seem that venal self-interest is taking precedence over the legitimate rights of those who have had their properties illicitly taken from them”, the British MP concluded.

The Financial Mirror today is mentioning conservative MP Theresa Villiers of Barnet who on Tuesday had sharply questioned Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Here are extracts of that debate in the House of Commons.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers: If he will make a statement on progress towards a settlement which will reunite Cyprus.

Mr. Jack Straw: As the UN Secretary-General noted in his report of last December, progress toward a solution on Cyprus has been negligible at best. We believe that a comprehensive solution can only be achieved under United Nations auspices, but the UN reported a widening gap and little confidence between the two communities over the past year. Ultimately, both communities have to demonstrate the courage and flexibility required to resume negotiations towards a comprehensive settlement, and we shall play our part in that.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers: There is a development boom in northern Cyprus, much of which is taking place on land that its owners fled from, as refugees, after the Turkish invasion. Will the Secretary of State strengthen the advice on the Foreign Office website urging British tourists and holidaymakers not to buy property in northern Cyprus that might have been stolen from its Cypriot owners?

Mr. Jack Straw: The advice that we give at the moment is appropriate but of course, we will always keep it open to review. This is a very complicated issue that goes back many decades. We are seeking to help bring both parties together, which is one reason why I worked so hard to open negations with Turkey on 3 October on membership of the European Union. Only when Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and the two communities recognize that their mutual interests are stronger than their historic antagonisms will we get a settlement.

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