Transcript of Didier Pfirter interview with Suleyman Erguclu, Kibris TV, 20/3/03
SE: Mr. Didier Pfirter, Legal Adviser to Mr. de Soto, the UNSG’s Special Representative to Cyprus. Welcome to our studio and thank you for being with us tonight. We know that you are leaving the island soon, and there are a lot of talk about the well discussed Annan Plan in the last four months. But before leaving the island we wanted to have this interview with you so that we can clarify certain points which are puzzling especially the Turkish Cypriot people, so thank you for giving us this opportunity Mr. Pfirter. Let me start by asking you the biggest question, is the Annan Plan still on the table?
DP: Yes, the SG has stated in The Hague, that his plan remains on the table, ready for the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots to pick it up and carry it forward to a solution if they summon the common will to do so. He has also said that he will be ready to assist if there is a clear and realistic prospect of finalizing negotiations of his plan with the full backing of the motherlands.
SE: How does the Annan Plan handle the sovereignty issue?
DP: On this issue, the plan refers to the Swiss model, which has often been invoked by the Turkish Cypriot side as the example to be followed on this issue. The Swiss constitution says that the cantons are sovereign within the limits of the Constitution. At the same time there can be no doubt that Switzerland is a single sovereign member of the international community and that a United Cyprus Republic would be too. Furthermore, the plan explicitly says that the constituent states shall sovereignly exercise all powers not vested in the federal government which again is in line with the Turkish Cypriot position that such residual powers should be sovereign powers. Also the constituent states would freely organise themselves under their own Constitution.
SE: What are the functions of the constituent states and the common state?
DP: The plan has strived to limit the functions of the federal government to what is necessary for an EU member state and a sovereign member of the international community or what is necessary because of the nature of an issue, such as communications. Virtually all matters important to individual citizens and all those which have major budgetary implications have been left to the constituent states. Among these are education, health, industry and agriculture, transport, social security, all direct taxation and the bulk of legislation, including civil law, commerce code and ordinary criminal law. All of these would be within the powers of the constituent state.
SE: Is the common state the continuation of the Republic of Cyprus or is it a new entity?
DP: The plan has chosen the so called virgin birth approach to this most contentious question. This approach makes it unnecessary to agree on the state of affairs prevailing prior to a settlement because the settlement itself would be the source for all that is relevant for the future. The plan contains elements of continuity for both sides reflected in provisions on past acts and in the list of treaties binding on the United Cyprus Republic.
SE: This is for both sides?
DP: Exactly. Yes there is… If you look at the Plan as it stands now there is a partial list of treaties. There are many many more treaties that would have had to be examined by the technical committees but the SG has already established the basic principles that there are treaties taken from the list provided by the Greek Cypriots and treaties taken from the list provided by the Turkish Cypriots which will certainly be in. And this is the case at this stage.
SE: How is the political equality of the Turkish and Greek Cypriots secured in this constitutional setup?
DP: The entire plan is based on a partnership of two equals. The political equality is reflected in the equal status of the two constituent states, in the equal number of senators hailing from each constituent state, in the fact that individuals from both constituent states shall rotate in the Chair of the Presidential Council and represent the Council as Head of State abroad and in the fact that no decision can be taken at any level or in any federal organ without substantial support from both constituent states. Finally, the fact that the Constitution cannot be changed other than with the consent of voters, separately expressed in both constituent states.
SE: What sort of arrangements are there to protect the political equality? Namely, fears have been expressed that Greek Cypriots settling in the North may affect the outcome of the elections to the Senate.
DP: The political rights at the common level, the federal level if you want, are to be exercised on the basis of internal constituent state citizenship status. According to the Plan as it stands now, it would be up to the constituent states to decide, whether such status can be obtained by people hailing from the other state or not. So Greek Cypriots who would be living in the Turkish Cypriot State would not necessarily need to become citizens of the Turkish Cypriot State and would therefore continue to vote in the Greek Cypriot State, at the central level. This is an important change that was made in the third version of the SG’s Plan and indeed dispels any danger of watering down of political equality in the long run.
SE: What is the exact percentage of the area to be left under Turkish Cypriot control?
DP: It is slightly more than 29%.
SE: How many people are expected to be dislocated if the plan is to be implemented? There are people who talk about 100 thousand and there are other figures? How many of these will move from areas to be left under Greek Cypriot control and how many will have to move as a result of Greek Cypriots coming and settling to the North?
DP: We have based our calculations on the 1996 Turkish Cypriot census. The number of Turkish Cypriots to be displaced by a territorial adjustment has always been in the forefront of the concerns of the SG. And we have strived to keep it as low as possible and this is the main reason why there is no straight line but why there is a wiggly line, we tried to identify villages where the current population is relatively low compared to the Greek Cypriot population prior to 1974, so as to affect the lowest possible number of current Turkish Cypriot inhabitants with this territorial adjustment. We also tried to avoid any villages which historically had had a significant Turkish Cypriot population going over to the Greek Cypriot State. This was achieved a 100% in the map that was attached to the second plan. Unfortunately with this new version there are a few villages which did have some Turkish Cypriot population which are affected but these villages would enjoy a special status.
Now as far as the numbers are concerned, as I more or less mentioned already, the map which was attached to the second plan, was the one that would have, from all the options before the SG, that was the map that affected the lowest number of current Turkish Cypriot population and that was the reason why the SG had chosen that map as the sole map. That map would have affected about 42,000 Turkish Cypriots, based on the 96 census.
The map that we have now attached to the third plan, this revised map, would affect about 47,000 people. According to that plan but you have to bear in mind that 11,000 of these are in Famagusta. These people would not need to relocate to another place but they would just move within the same town which is quite a normal phenomenon anywhere in the world that within the town where people live and work they may change houses at some point. But there are also concrete plans to relocate the roughly 12,000 people of Guzelyurt as a community to a suitable nearby place. This then leaves about 24,000 people who would be relocated from other affected locations.
As for the people affected by the restitution of properties to Greek Cypriots, their maximum number is limited by the 10% ceiling on restitution of property, across the Turkish Cypriot State. No more than 10% of properties and no more than 10% of houses, residences can be restituted. Therefore we believe that a maximum of 15,000 people might have to move to new houses elsewhere in the same village where they currently live, and only five years after entry into force of the settlement. So they will have ample time to make provisions for such a move and they will be assisted in that also. And I would like to stress that this is a maximum number, the actual number could well be less. It should also be noted that Turkish Cypriots who possessed property in what will be the Greek Cypriot state or who substantially improved a property will not be obliged to move and that anybody who needs to move will be provided with alternative accommodation.
SE: How will these people be treated? New housing? Social environment?. Financing?
DP: If they do have money, for instance because they recover their former properties in the South and sell them or they get compensation for those properties, they will be able to build a house to their own liking, where they want. If they do not have sufficient funds, they will be given alternative accommodation, which shall observe certain minimum criteria that are established in the Plan. The Plan foresees that 2 people would have no less than 70 m2. Three people would have a hundred and four people would have a 120 m2 of living area, apartment or house. The plan also underlines that such accommodation should be in locations where adequate livelihood may be earned. Not just anywhere. And of course this is going to cost a considerable amount of money. And the Plan foresees that it would be paid by international donors or the federal government. When the process was interrupted, preparations for a Donors conference were well under way. And it was expected that several hundred million Dollars of initial donations would have been spoken at that conference.
SE: How many Greek Cypriots will be allowed to return to North and under what conditions? Does this number include those to return to Karpas?
DP: First let me clarify two things: the establishment of residency by Greek Cypriots in the Turkish Cypriot state and the restitution of property are two quite different things and would be dealt with separately by the plan. The fact that someone has a right to return does therefore not mean that he or she is reinstated to his or her property nor does reinstatement to a property automatically entitle the owner to residency rights. The other thing that is important to bear in mind, is that the process of return would be a very gradual one.
After two years, people over 65 and their husband or wife or a brother or sister and former inhabitants of four Karpas villages, not of the entire Karpas, and their descendants would be allowed to return. Their properties would however only be reinstated after 3 years if they are uninhabited and otherwise after 5 years, provided the conditions, quite stringent conditions of the Plan, are fulfilled. The number of elderly people who would be eligible is about, by our calculations, 12,500. Since these people all have rebuilt their lives in the south and have family there that they could not take along, it is unlikely that they would in large numbers go and live in what by now are Turkish Cypriot villages in the north, especially before any of them get their houses back.
The number of people who were displaced from the four Karpas villages was about 6000. If we take the population growth of 40% that has since occurred among Greek Cypriots, about 8400 people would be eligible to return. However, all of these people have since established livelihoods elsewhere in Cyprus and may well have professions that can not be exercised in the rather remote rural villages of the Karpas. It is therefore unlikely that more than a fraction of the number entitled to return would actually do so.
Then after 6 years, other Greek Cypriots could establish residence in the Turkish Cypriot state up to a level of 7% in any village. This level rises to 14% after 11 years and to 21% across of the population of the entire state, roughly 40,000, after 15 years. It should be noted that elderly people and people hailing from the 4 Karpas villages who are themselves exempted from limitations do count for the calculation of these percentages. Since former inhabitants enjoy priority in establishing residence, all former inhabitants who would still be alive some 12 years after entry into force of the Foundation Agreement would likely be able to return under the permissible ceiling of 14% and certainly under that of 21%.
I can show you a graph. I don’t know whether it will be possible to see it on TV. This is the total number of people, Greek Cypriot people who used to live in 1974 in the area that would be the Turkish Cypriot State in the future. These people have since died. These are the people now alive. These are the people over 65. These are the people younger than 65. Obviously they will grow older. The number of people younger than 65 will constantly diminish. And in the year 2039 all of them will be 65 or older. This line here are the limitations for return and you see that here the line crosses the total number of former inhabitants who would still be alive. So all of them, there is room for all of them already under the 14% probably because nobody will expect that all of them will go, so all of them who will want to go will be able to go already under the 14% and certainly under 21%. Nobody will wait to go later, after he has turned 65, and when he can go beyond the limit which is established. So the fear that people will go and increase the permissible number of 21% is a very theoretical one.
I think in general this debate about the number of people returning is largely besides the point. The limits in the plan have the nature of safeguard clauses, they are not targets. We do not expect that these limits will actually be reached. If one looks at the pattern prevailing today in the South of Cyprus, one will see that about 80% of the population lives in the 4 urban areas. Most houses in the villages are merely used for weekends and as summer houses.
There is no reason why it should be different for villages in the north. The fact that these villages have become TC villages and that the entire administration and legislation will be solely in Turkish will actually make it quite unlikely that any Greek Cypriots will want to establish residence there. Since southern Nicosia and southern Famagusta would be Greek Cypriot, there is also no reason for Greek Cypriots to go and live in the northern parts of these urban areas. This leaves Kyrenia as the only urban area in the north. But the number of Greek Cypriots who hail from Kyrenia is quite small and Kyrenia can be reached within 15 minutes from Nicosia if someone wants to do business there. So again the likelihood of a big influx to even the Kyrenia area is not very important. I would therefore predict that the number of Greek Cypriots who will establish permanent residence in the Turkish Cypriot state will remain very small indeed.
You may ask, why then did the UN not suggest lower limits. Well, this is a question of human rights and of admissible limitations for the EU Acquis. Safeguard clauses must be justified and they must be reasonable. One can explain and justify a slow and gradual approach after 40 years of conflict and that for the preservation of bi-zonality and the Turkish Cypriot identity of the Turkish Cypriot State, the vast majority of the population in that state must be Turkish Cypriot. But it would be difficult to explain why 15 or more years after the entry into force of the Foundation Agreement the Greek Cypriots could not be a minority of 1/5 of the population of the Turkish Cypriot state.
SE: In the practical implementation Mr. Pfirter, will the Greek Cypriots returning to the North be faced individually with Turkish Cypriots who are the present occupants of their property?
DP: No. The plan makes it very clear that, individuals will not need to deal directly with each other on property issues. The property board will be the sole intermediary on all dealings, including leases, sales, exchanges etc.. unless both sides wish to deal directly with each other. Which they may do if they both want to, but if one of them doesn’t the Property Board will be the one that they both will deal with.
SE: What will happen to the people who will have to evacuate the property they have been using for so many years?
DP: People who have owned property of roughly equivalent value - the plan actually allows for a difference of up to 50% - and people who have significantly improved a property, e.g. built a house on empty land, will not be required to move. In any case, nobody would have to move until 5 years after entry into force of the Foundation Agreement. Finally, Turkish Cypriots who have to move will be provided with alternative accommodation of the minimum size mentioned earlier and in the same town or village in which they currently live.
SE: How does the plan handle the security and guarantees issue?
DP: The Treaties of Guarantee and Alliance will continue. The scope of the Treaty of Guarantee will be broadened to embrace also the territorial integrity, security and constitutional order of the constituent states. The number of Turkish troops allowed to be stationed under the Treaty of Alliance will be raised from 650 to 6000 until Turkey joins the EU, the same will apply to Greece which is allowed 950 under the current Treaty of Alliance. In this context it should be noted that the two treaties are independent of each other and that the withdrawal of motherland troops foreseen when Turkey shall join the EU will not affect the continued validity of either of the treaties.
A UN force will be there to assist the parties with the implementation of a settlement and with the prevention of trouble in the early stages. Let’s say a Turkish Cypriot wants to go to Pafos and he has a traffic accident and he feels unjustly treated by the Greek Cypriot Police and he could call upon the UN to make an assessment and to assist him. Or if, in the early stages there may be trouble, too many people may want to go to the other side and the UN may be called upon to assist the police of the constituent states to control movements and so on. These sort of things. But the mandate of the UN will be very different from that of the guarantors and does not in any way diminish their rights and obligations.
SE: Will the 1960 guarantee system still be in place?
DP: Yes, as I just said, it will actually be considerably strengthened, namely the inclusion of the constituent states into the scope of the system is an important enlargement of the guarantee system.
SE: Why are certain conditions are proposed on the stationing and movement of guarantor troops?
DP: The provision which excludes troops from being stationed in areas of territorial adjustment or between the Nicosia-Famagusta Highway and the current buffer zone provides for a suitable disengagement of those troops and assures the Turkish Cypriot side that the territorial adjustment will not have any strategic significance. Because no Greek troops can move into the areas that would go to the Greek Cypriot State. The movement of troops is not actually limited, the plan merely provides for mutual information 72 hours before big movements take place as a confidence building measure. This is perfectly normal and common practice among e.g. member countries of the OSCE.
SE: There are allegations that the list of arms and military vehicles proposed by the UN for the guarantors to keep in Cyprus, is drawn up to favour the Greek-Greek Cypriot side. What do you have to say to that?
DP: These allegations are completely unfounded. In the first place, it should be noted that the Greek Cypriot national guard is to be dismantled and its arms are to leave the island. The initial plan of the SG contained blanks on these issues to be filled by Greece and Turkey in mutual agreement. Unfortunately they were unable to do so. In the third plan the UN made suggestions to fill in the blanks. The figures chosen were standard figures; we had no detailed technical information from either side. In any event we do not expect that these technical details would pose a problem in finalizing the agreement. These can certainly be resolved to the satisfaction of both guarantors who have expressed actually their willingness to continue discussing these issues.
SE: Again there are allegations that the map in the plan was drawn up by the Greek General Staff, keeping in mind a possible attack on the North. Now, you being one of the architects of the plan, could there be any truth in that Mr. Pfirter?
DP: Nothing could be further from the truth. There have never been any contacts on the map, or on any other issue for that matter, with the Greek General Staff, with any military authority on either side or indeed any Greek authorities. As I have already said, the provision which prevents Greek troops from being stationed in areas of territorial adjustment, makes the map largely irrelevant from a strategic point of view because the Greek troops will have to stay on the other side of what is currently the buffer zone, no matter how the line is drawn up. The line was purely drawn up on the basis of population figures in 1974, 1960 and the current population with an aim of allowing as large as possible number of Greek Cypriots to return under Greek Cypriot administration while affecting the lowest possible number of Turkish Cypriots. And for instance if you refer to the villages that are to the Northeast of Guzelyurt, Camlibel and that area up there, those are villages which are now very sparsely populated. The 1960 population was twice as large of the current population and some of these villages, the Maronite villages are empty. It was our assessment that it hurts the Turkish Cypriots much less to give those villages back then to give villages back, let’s say like Yenibogazici, or Mormenekse, Tuzla which have been settled, where people have renovated houses, built new houses etc. where they have really taken roots in large numbers. And that’s why the line was drawn in this way and not in another way.
SE: How will the plan affect the people who came to North Cyprus from Turkey and settled here?
DP: Anybody who is married to a Cypriot will automatically get citizenship. A further 45,000 people will get citizenship in a certain order of priority, and we expect that anyone who has grown up in Cyprus are the first priority category in that. Or those who stayed here for a long time should be covered by that number. Another roughly 15,000 people, it will be 10% of the Turkish Cypriot population, will get permanent residency and they will be able to obtain citizenship after some more years, depending on how long they have already stayed in Cyprus. Students and Academic Staff will be allowed to stay in Cyprus in unlimited numbers. Anybody who chooses to return to Turkey would get substantial assistance of no less than 10,000 Euros for a family of four. That figure could be higher, it depends on what may be offered, but it wouldn’t be less.
SE: Does the plan have any provisions for overcoming the economic imbalance between the North and the South?
DP: The Constitution says that the federal economic policy shall give special attention to the harmonisation of the two economies and the eradication of economic inequalities within the shortest possible time. There are several more specific provisions to safeguard the economic interests of the Turkish Cypriots, e.g. those who currently enjoy import licenses or those who have bank accounts in foreign currency, which is not allowed now in the South of Cyprus. The distribution of indirect taxes between the constituent states results in a net transfer of resources from the Greek Cypriot state to the Turkish Cypriot state of about 25 Million Pounds or almost 50 Million USD per year, according to Turkish Cypriot calculations that is. The Greek Cypriots actually think it would be even more. Most important of all are however the numerous EU programs which are specifically designed to eradicate economic disparities. This is one of the main aims of the EU that it has had since its existence and it has very elaborate programmes on that. In addition to the regular programs, the EU has allocated a special fund of 200 Million Euros to the Turkish Cypriot state. Finally it should be noted that the tremendous and unspoilt touristic resources of the Turkish Cypriot state will allow it to rapidly catch up after a settlement. Because tourism can generate income quite quickly compared to industries or so which take a big investment and take time to generate income. Tourism reacts in a quick manner.
SE: What sort of country does this plan envisage? What is the vision of this plan?
DP: It envisages a country where Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots live essentially side by side, more than together, if you want. People have said that about Switzerland. They’ve said “we get along well because we live back to back rather than front to front”, as good neighbours in their own states and separately governing their own affairs, including most aspects of their daily lives. Towards the outside world and in the EU they would act together based on common agreement, since no decision could be taken without substantial support from both constituent states and since both of them would have the same number of seats in the senate which has to pass all the laws and approve all the treaties. The federal government would not depend on the will of one person but on the collective will of a Presidential Council elected with substantial support from both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot Senators (at least 2/5 from each side) and requiring votes from members from both constituent states for any decision that the Presidential Council would take.
The plan allows for a moderate and slow return of some Greek Cypriots to the Turkish Cypriot state but ensures that the Greek Cypriots cannot be more than 1/5 of the population of that state, which would ensure the Turkish Cypriot identity of the Turkish Cypriot state in the long run. And furthermore these people would not vote for the Turkish Cypriot seats at the central level. They would continue to vote as part of the Greek Cypriot constituency. Because they would not get the internal constituent state citizenship rights in the Turkish Cypriot state.
SE: I think we have covered all aspects of the Annan Plan. I have one last question. You may not want to answer it but I’ll ask it anyway. You were present at all the meetings in The Hague? Could you comment on the attitudes and positions taken by the two sides at the marathon meetings at The Hague?
DP: As you said I would prefer not to get into that. The statement of the SG was clear in that respect. One side said “no” to the request by the SG that negotiations of his plan should be finalised by 25 March and the plan put to referenda on 30 March, the other side said yes, provided that the plan would actually be completed and that there would be enough time for a referendum campaign. We didn’t need to go into these provisos and discover whether they would have been actually an obstacle or not because since we had a “no” from the other side it didn’t become a practical issue. The secretary general made a further attempt to postpone the referendum by a week and allow the parties to take a final decision on whether to go to referendum after finalisation of negotiations on the 28 March. For this to be realistic it would have been necessary however to work intensively on the basis of an intensive work program and to start with preliminary preparations for a referendum, but the SG was not able to secure these commitments either. And therefore he said that he would not pursue his efforts with the same intensity at this point in time.
SE: Mr. Didier Pfirter, thank you very much for being with us tonight. I think our interview has been enlightening for the people who want to know the fine details and the meanings of the provisions in the Plan. Let’s put the hope that the Annan Plan does not disappear from the table, it stays on the table and it helps us to reach a final and lasting solution.
DP: Thank you very much Mr. Erguclu.
SE: Thank you very much Mr. Pfirter.