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Turkey in 'breakthrough' for Cyprus missing

AFP , Thursday 5 Nov 2015
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Ankara has agreed to allow excavations of possible mass graves in military zones of Turkish-held northern Cyprus to assist the divided island's UN-brokered peace process, officials said Thursday.

"The Turkish army has formally agreed to allow access to teams for excavations in search of missing persons in Cyprus inside military zones in the north," the UN-backed Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) said in a statement.

The issue of missing persons is one of the most painful chapters in the history of Cyprus.

The CMP said it was notified by Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci that "Turkey had formally agreed to provide access ... to all 30 currently known suspected burial sites in military areas in the north".

In what the CMP hailed as an "important breakthrough", access will be granted over a three-year period, starting in January 2016, with 10 sites to be excavated each year.

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades have repeatedly called on both communities to help in efforts to locate the remains of missing persons as part of confidence-building measures.

In the past, it had been impossible to carry out excavations at certain sites as the Turkish military was reluctant to give its consent.

Although Cypriots are being found and identified, many relatives are still in the dark as to what happened to their loved ones.

The CMP says the remains of more than 1,000 Cypriots have yet to be located.

A total of 1,508 Greek Cypriots were originally listed as missing, mostly since 1974, along with 493 Turkish Cypriots, mainly from inter-communal clashes in 1963-1964.

So far, 469 Greek Cypriots and 145 Turkish Cypriots have been identified through DNA sampling and returned to their families for a proper burial.

Long-stalled UN-brokered peace -- in what is seen as the last best chance to reunify Cyprus after four decades of division -- were launched on May 15.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

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