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Media Watch 2003

07 May 2003
Source: Cyprus Mail
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Mail of Nicosia on 7 May 2003.
Crossing over, into a legal minefield

THE LIFTING of the restrictions on movement appears to have opened a legal minefield which has put the authorities of the Cyprus Republic in a tangle from which it is difficult to break free. Every day a new legal complication presents itself, putting the government in a difficult position, with the authorities in the north never missing the opportunity to promote the idea that the occupied area is a 'state' with its own laws and regulations.

At the weekend, a young Greek Cypriot was involved in a car crash in the north and was held in custody because he had refused to pay the 12,000 euros worth of damage caused to the Turkish Cypriot owned car. The one-day insurance cover he had paid for at the Ledra Palace checkpoint only covered third-party damage, up to £2,000, around 3,200 euros. He was fined in a Turkish Cypriot 'court' and released after his own insurance company had agreed to settle the bill. The Greek Cypriot insurance firm had made a political rather than a business decision, because it could not rely on the accident report drafted by the 'police', which it does not recognise.

There are similar complications in the case of Turkish Cypriots driving their cars to the free areas. Firstly, the registration number of a Turkish Cypriot's car is illegal; secondly, the car is illegal because it had been brought through an illegal port of entry, and third, the driving licence issued by the Denktash regime is invalid. The government will get round this problem by issuing one-day registration plates and driving licences for the Turkish Cypriots, but to do this new legislation will need to be passed.

The issue of property is even more complicated. If, for instance, Turkish Cypriots decide they want to return to their houses in the free areas what will the government do? As citizens of the Republic they have every right to make this demand of the authorities. But will the government kick out a refugee family and return the property to its owner? There are no ready answers or easy solutions, but a legitimate and recognised government has an obligation to treat all its citizens as equal before the law. There are no such considerations for the Denktash regime, as the car crash incident illustrated.

Admittedly, these are awkward problems, which is why they must be approached with the utmost caution and care. The caution shown so far in most issues was not evident in handling the issue of 'overnight stays' in the occupied area. In this case, the government spokesman appears to have needlessly over-reacted in public. He said that the government would track down those who had stayed in hotels in the north which belong to Greek Cypriots, because they were breaking the law because of their illegal entry. The government would support any civil action taken by the owners against alleged trespassers, he said.

Resorting to such threats is not the answer. It would have been enough for him to explain why he thought it was wrong to stay in such hotels and leave it at that. But tracking down citizens and implicitly encouraging owners to take legal measures against them smacks of authoritarianism. And how such a case would be proved in a court of law is another matter.

There is no need for such tactics. Explaining to citizens why it is wrong to stay overnight in a hotel in the occupied areas which is owned by a Greek Cypriot should be enough. It is imperative that such issues are handled with greater care by the government."