Turkey Compensates Greek Cypriot for Property

STRASBOURG (Reuters)–Turkey handed over a check for 1.12 million euros ($1.34 million) on Tuesday in a ground-breaking gesture to compensate a Greek Cypriot woman for property seized when Turkey invaded the island in 1974.

The move was announced by Strasbourg-based human rights body the Council of Europe–which last month extended a deadline for Turkey to compensate Titina Loizidou as ordered in 1998 by the European Court of Human Rights.

The deadline extension had been granted after Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul signaled that Ankara could drop its long-standing objections and compensate Loizidou–ending several weeks of intense negotiations.

Although it concerns only one person’s property–the case has taken on a wider importance because of Ankara’s concern that a payout could block a general settlement of thousands of claims on both sides of the divided Mediterranean island.

In Nicosia–lawyers representing Loizidou said a key part of the announcement was that the statement from the European Court of Human Rights did not affect her ownership rights. Her rights as an owner would be debated after 2005–they said.

Loizidou was forced to leave her home in the north of Cyprus during the 1974 Turkish invasion. The invasion followed a brief Greek Cypriot coup intended to unite the island with Greece.

Turkey has long said it should not be held responsible for property claims because the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is an independent state. Only Ankara recognizes the Turkish-held north–where it keeps about 30,000 troops.

"Although the judgment in question is considered unjust and erroneous–(compensating Loizidou) is an indication of the government’s willingness to fulfill the common responsibility for preserving the credibility of the European Court of Human Rights,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"Furthermore it eliminates an obstacle in the development of our relations with the Council of Europe and the European Union.”

The internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government is due to join the EU in May 2004. A lack of settlement on the island could undermine Muslim candidate Turkey’s own aspirations to join the affluent bloc at a later date.

Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash branded the ruling a "political decision,” but said there was still a chance for the general property settlement the Turkish side seeks. The latest talks on reuniting Cyprus–partitioned along ethnic lines–collapsed earlier this year–however. The EU has said the stalemate could set back Turkey’s hopes of starting entry talks with the bloc in 2005.

Located in Strasbourg–eastern France–the Council of Europe acts as a human rights watchdog for Europe–especially through the European Court of Human Rights where citizens can bring cases against governmen’s.

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