Turkish Cypriots bury 'missings'

Turkish Cypriots, some weeping and wailing, laid to rest Thursday 13 men killed in violence during Turkey's 1974 operation of northern Cyprus, in the first such mass burial of people who have been missing for at least three decades.

Turkish Cypriots bury 'missings'

Turkish Cypriots, some weeping and wailing, laid to rest Thursday 13 men killed in violence during Turkey's 1974 operation of northern Cyprus, in the first such mass burial of people who have been missing for at least three decades.

Scores attended the unprecedented ceremony in Turkish-held northern Nicosia for the men, the first identified among hundreds of people missing since the 1974 and more than a decade of intercommunal strife that preceded it.

Emotions ran high as the men's remains were buried with military honors after a religious ceremony attended by Mehmet Ali Talat, the leader of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), his predecessor Rauf Denktash, and senior officials.

"The flames still burn within us 33 years on," Kudret Ozersay, whose father was among those buried, told the gathering. "For years, these men had been deprived of their basic right to a humane burial. Now they have achieved it."

Turkish Cypriot soldiers carried the coffins, draped in the flags of Turkey and the TRNC, to the graves ahead of a procession of relatives carrying the victims' pictures.

After the burial, families sprinkled on the graves soil brought from the village of Alaminos in the Greek Cypriot south of the island, where the victims lived and were killed.

The Turkish Cypriot dead are among 28 missing people whose remains have so far been identified through a painstaking process of DNA testing by the United Nations-led Committee on Missing Persons (CMP).

The other 15 are Greek Cypriots who are expected to be buried in similar ceremonies in the south of the island later this week.

The remains of the Turkish Cypriots were found in a roadside ditch outside the once-mixed village of Alaminos, near the southern port of Larnaca, during excavations that began last summer.

Turkish Cypriot sources say that the 13 were among 15 men executed by a group of Greek Cypriot militia and Greek soldiers July 20, 1974. That was the same day that Turkish troops landed in the north of the island in response to an Athens-engineered coup aiming to unite Cyprus with Greece.

Turkish Cypriots say that the 13 victims, aged between 18 and 65, were members of the Turkish Cypriot resistance but were unarmed when they were captured and executed.

"It was a massacre that trampled every moral rule and was carried out to avenge the peace operation in the north of the island," Ozersay said, referring to the term then used by Turkey to describe its military operation aimed at ending intercommunal strife.

UN experts are expected to continue excavating Alaminos to search for the remains of the two other Turkish Cypriots still unaccounted for.

Excavations at suspected mass graves on both sides of Cyprus began in earnest in August 2006 after an agreement between the leaders of the island's two communities to reactivate the long dormant CMP.

The work is partly financed by Greece and Turkey.

On Friday, TRNC officials said that they would grant the CMP €1.5 million of a €259-million EU donation aimed at easing the international isolation of their statelet.

Gulden Plumer Kucuk, the Turkish Cypriot member of the CMP, told a press conference in northern Nicosia that the grant met a large portion of the committee's 2007 budget of €1.9 million.

According to UN figures, 1,468 Greek Cypriots and 502 Turkish Cypriots are listed as missing from intercommunal violence in 1963-64 and from the 1974 Turkish operation.

Christophe Girod, the UN representative on the CMP, recently cautioned that "at least three years will be needed to exhume all the bodies of the missing. As for identification, that could take several years."

AFP

Güncelleme Tarihi: 12 Temmuz 2007, 19:30
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