The results from the program of the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) in 2020 are very disappointing, mainly due to problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the CMP’s Greek Cypriot member, Leonidas Pantelides told CNA, adding that “the aim is to intensify efforts, to recover lost ground, once conditions allow.”
According to data, published in the CMP website, in 2020 there have been 25 identifications and 10 individuals were exhumed, while the percentage of excavation sites with remains found stands at 11%. In 2019 there were 42 identifications, 71 in 2018, 117 in 2017 and 115 in 2016. In 2019, 29 individuals were exhumed, 11 in 2018, 39 in 2017 and 83 in 2016.
“2020 was definitely the worst year. We lost many working days. We lost 73 days due to the pandemic and around 25 working days due to weather conditions, 19 due to a heatwave and the rest because of rain” Pantelides told CNA.
He also said that after the “elections” in the Turkish-occupied areas the office of the CMP’s Turkish Cypriot member was not working in full swing, entering a transition period, as the incumbent, Gülden Plümer Küçük, and her aide were informed that their contract would not be renewed and no other member was immediately appointed. Recently, it was announced that Ηakkı Müftüzade was appointed as the new Turkish Cypriot member, as from January 1st, 2021.
At the moment, excavation teams and the identifications lab, staffed with bi-communal teams, are not able to work, Pantelides went on. People need to present negative COVID-19 tests every 72 hours in order to cross to the other side, meaning that the teams will be able to work for two days, he added and said that at this point, no work can be done, where bicommunal teams are required.
Presently, only work that does not require physical presence is being done, involving research on data and information, he added. He said moreover that there is only skeleton staff working in the office, on a rotating basis, and the rest of the staff is working from home.
“We have prepared quite a large number of cases that await excavation. We are talking about more than 100 cases that are part of the excavation program. We are waiting to see when we will be able to excavate. Research work was able to go forward during the first lockdown, from March to May, and a similar thing is also happening now” said the Greek Cypriot member.
Pantelides said that he crossed to the Turkish-occupied areas and met with the new Turkish Cypriot member, after the latter was appointed, and also held an online session, to discuss how to work and take stock of the situation.
Replying to a relevant question, Pantelides said that there is always a flow of information on missing persons, while three people continue to work on a permanent basis on UN archives and archives of various countries.
As for the remains of missing persons that may be buried in Famagusta, Pantelides said that the focus is on the Stavros cemetery, in the fenced-off area of Varosha, and said that they expressed interest to gain access for an on-site visit, accompanied by witnesses. He added that there are 17 cases of people, declared to be missing, in the fenced-off area.
As for COVID-19 cases among staff members, Pantelides said that there was a case in the research staff of the office of the Turkish Cypriot member and another one in the office of the Greek Cypriot member, working in excavations. All relevant protocols are being implemented, he concluded.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37% of its territory. Since then, the fate of hundreds of people remains unknown.
A Committee on Missing Persons has been established, upon agreement between the leaders of the two communities, with the scope of exhuming, identifying and returning the remains of missing persons to their relatives.
The Turkish side illegally opened on October 8 part of the beach of the abandoned town of Famagusta, in violation to numerous UN resolutions.
Varosha, the fenced off section of the Turkish occupied town of Famagusta, is often described as a ‘ghost town’. UN Security Council resolution 550 (1984) considers any attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of this area to the administration of the UN. UN Security Council resolution 789 (1992) also urges that with a view to the implementation of resolution 550 (1984), the area at present under the control of the United Nations Peace-keeping Force in Cyprus be extended to include Varosha.