Koushos had been asked after a meeting of the National Council, the country’s top advisory body comprised of parliamentary party leaders, at the Presidential Palace, on Thursday to comment on an announcement by UNFICYP about the temporary suspension of the operation of four crossing points between the government-controlled areas and the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and subsequently occupied its northern third. Several crossing points opened since April 2003, when the Turkish Cypriot regime lifted partially restrictions it had imposed on the free movement of people to and from the occupied areas. Last week the government announced the temporary suspension of operation of four crossing points for a week as a precaution against the coronavirus.
The temporary suspension of operation was renewed until Monday today. In a statement earlier today, UNFICYP expressed concern by the ongoing disruption caused to people on both sides, following the decision to temporarily close four crossing points along the buffer zone.
In his reply Koushos said that the issue has no political dimension, noting that “we are a sovereign state and an EU member. We are implementing preventative measures to block the spread of the coronavirus on the bases of directives and protocols by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).”
He added that “the suspension of operation of the particular crossings is precisely in this context and the government will continuously monitor the situation based on the recommendations of the ministerial committee.”
The ministerial committee, comprised by Ministers of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Health, Defence and Tourism Deputy Minister, meets every day to assess the situation as regards the COVID-19.
The Spokesman further said that Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and the government have “repeatedly said that not only do they wish that all crossing points operate smoothly but that they also wish to open more crossing points.”
Koushos said that UNFICYP’s statement notes the specific fact stressing that taking preventative measures is acceptable. “It stresses the importance of contact between the two communities and our reply is that in the context of protecting both communities a responsible government needs to take preventative measures,” he added.
The government he said, took the specific preventative measures to protect both communities, adding that “five crossing points are operating and contact between the two communities has in a way been cut off nor have visits from the free areas to the occupied areas or vice versa.”
Replying to a question as to whether it is expected that UN Secretary General’s Special Representative in Cyprus Elizabeth Spehar will have a meeting with President Anastasiades after having had a meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, he said that he does not rule out the possibility but did not know whether a telephone conversation between Anastasiades and Spehar took place earlier in the morning.
National Council meeting productive
Referring to the National Council meeting he said it was productive and took place in an excellent climate, adding that political party leaders “contributed to the conversation with a positive way in order to have outcomes.”
Koushos added that President Anastasiades and Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou briefed political party leaders over the measures implemented on the coronavirus and the government’s policy on the specific matter, adding that Ioannou replied to political party leaders and that the overwhelming majority of leaders showed understanding.
Everyone agreed that the there should be checks at the points of entry of the Republic of Cyprus while questions were posed on the matter of the temporary suspension of operation of specific crossing points, for which explanations were given, he noted.
“It was clarified that this measure has been taken in the context of preventative and control measures and that it has absolutely no political dimension,” he stressed.
Migrant flows a national problem
The Government Spokesman also said that President Anastasiades briefed political party leaders on the steps the government intends to take to tackle the immigration problem and asked them to submit their own proposals by next Monday.
A special ministerial committee is set to meet tomorrow in the presence of Attorney General Costas Clerides to discuss the issue and to make recommendations. The committee will also meet next Tuesday, chaired by President Anastasiades, to discuss what measures will be taken, which will then be submitted to the Cabinet for approval, he noted.
Replying to a question he said that the government considers migrant flows in the country a very serious matter and has flagged it to be a national problem.
Koushos recalled that Cyprus President has also raised the matter during a telephone conversation with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and that representations have been made at European level.
Political party leaders briefed of government actions about Varosha
He further said that President Anastasiades also briefed political party leaders on the government and his own actions as regards the fenced-off part of the Turkish occupied city of Famagusta, known as Varosha.
The Turkish Bar Association organized on February 15 a round table meeting in Varosha, for the first time since 1974, which was attended by Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay and Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül. Oktay stated that Varosha belongs to the illegal Turkish Cypriot regime and took part in a tour of the fenced-off part of Famagusta.
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 should be extended to include Varosha.