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US Congress Team Arrives in Northern Cyprus Despite Protests from Nicosia

US congress members Edward Whitfield, left, and Eddie Bernice Johnson gesture during their arrival at Ercan Airport near Nicosia
A U.S. congressional delegation has arrived in the Turkish controlled sector of Cyprus, entering the unrecognized state via Turkey in direct defiance of the Greek Cypriot government. Since the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, only two congressmen have entered the island through the north's Tymbou Airport.

The trip, headed by Republican Congressman Ed Whitfield, is seen as a step towards ending the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots. However, this visit has caused anger among the Greek Cypriot community in the United States and in Cyprus. The Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos is outraged that the delegation flew directly to the occupied north. His government insist the visit flouts both international and U.S. law.

Tymbou Airport has been as closed to all international air traffic since the 1974 Turkish invasion. Congressman Whitfield told VOA News that he was not aware any laws were being broken by his visit.

"We have been in discussions with the National Security Council and the U.S. department of state and we've been assured by everyone that there is not anything illegal about going into northern Cyprus directly," he said.

It's a claim rejected by the Greek Cypriot government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides, who told VOA direct flights into the north violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.

"We believe that such a visit by members of congress directly into the occupied areas of Cyprus is clearly illegal," he said. "Under international law there is no doubt about this illegality; both under the general principals of international law and under the resolutions of the Security Council of the United Nations, in particular resolution 550 [1984] which calls upon all states, not to assist or further the secessionist regime established in the occupied part of Cyprus."

In 2004 Turkish Cypriots voted overwhelmingly in favor of a U.N. settlement plan, hatched by U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan, to re-unite the island. Greek Cypriots, urged by their president, rejected the proposal.

Since the referendum the U.S. has been examining all possibilities regarding the lifting of the international isolation of the Turkish Cypriots. Congressman Whitfield stressed that his visit is a symbolic gesture on the part of the U.S. Congress to pay tribute to the Turkish Cypriots efforts to seek the re-unification of Cyprus.

"The Turkish Cypriots voted overwhelmingly for re-unification on the Annan plan," said Congressman Whitfield. "The Greek Cypriots voted against it. The entire international community supported re-unification and the Annan plan and statements have been made by the U.N. representatives as well as in the U.S. and elsewhere that steps should be taken to remove the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots."

Earlier this year the pro-EU candidate Mehmet Ali Talat was elected president of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot community. He has called for an end to the isolation of his people and vowed to reunite the island. Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded it following an Athens-inspired coup aimed at unifying the island with Greece.