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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 18:04 GMT
Relatives of the missing speak
A Greek Cypriot campaigns for information on a missing relative
The issue is an emotive one for both sides
By BBC News Online's Heather Sharp

The unknown fate of some 2,300 people who disappeared in the conflict between Turkish and Greek Cypriots is one of the most emotive issues dividing the two communities.

Decades after inter-communal violence broke out in Cyprus in the 1960s, families still do not know whether to hope for the return of missing fathers, sons and brothers.


If we receive the bones we will put them next to my mother's and it will be the real end of the whole story

Kutlay Erk, son of missing man
Relatives on both sides have had their hopes raised and dashed again, as leaders have come close to sharing information on the locations of mass graves, only to pull back again.

Kutlay Erk's father was among around 800 Turkish Cypriots, mainly civilians, who went missing during bouts of fighting between the two communities in the 1960s and 1970s.

Declared dead

Mr Erk, now a Turkish Cypriot politician, was 11 when he last saw his father on 22 December 1963.

His father, a prison warder in Nicosia, had been taken to hospital after suffering a heart attack.

The family was able to visit for the first two days.

"On the 23rd, the two sides started to fight against each other. There was no movement on both sides. It was real war. And ever since then we didn't hear about him," he told BBC News Online.

In 1968, the Turkish authorities said that all the missing people were thought dead.

"Then we gave up expecting him to return," said Mr Erk.

Greek Cypriot hopes

On the Greek Cypriot side, 1,480 people are listed as missing, all of whom disappeared during the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974 in response to a Greek-inspired coup.

Nicos Theodosio's brother was last seen fighting with the Cypriot army against the Turkish troops.

map
"He was half way through his military service. He was 19 and if he is still alive, he'd be 46 this year," he said.

Mr Theodosio campaigns on behalf of relatives of the disappeared, and says that around 700 of the missing Greek Cypriots were soldiers, while the others were civilians.

"When you have a missing relative, time doesn't matter," he said. "You hope from day one until the last day, that you will have proof that your beloved person is alive, especially if you are a parent and you have a missing son," he said.

"I don't have such high hopes, but I will always stand up for the right of families to hope until the proof of the opposite," he said.

'Manipulation'

Whether or not they hope to see their loved ones again, there is still a deep desire for information among the relatives of the disappeared.

Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash and Greek Cypriot leader Glafcos Clerides
The two leaders are trying to resurrect a 1997 deal
But the administrations on both sides have been accused of manipulating the issue.

"This is a humanitarian issue. It shouldn't be politicised. But the politicians are using this as an instrument to score against the other side, to blame the other side, to prove that the other is so bad, so cruel," said Mr Erk.

"I think it was not approached properly as a humanitarian issue, it was just presented from the Turkish side as a propaganda issue," said Mr Theodosio.

"Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots - all the relatives should have the answers for their beloved ones," he added.

Slow progress

A small number of sites have been exhumed and an agreement to share information and set up a joint DNA bank was brokered by the UN in 1997, but the initiative has not been a great success.

Now the leaders of the two sides, Rauf Denktash and Glafcos Clerides, are meeting to try to resurrect the deal.

Mr Erk hopes his father's remains will eventually be returned.

His mother died two years ago, still unsure whether to continue hoping to see her husband again, he said. When she was buried, the family reserved a plot next to her.

"If we receive the bones we will put them next to my mother's and it will be the real end of the whole story. Otherwise, the story has not ended for us," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Kutlay Erk
'He was never returned to us'
Nicos Theodosio
'If he is still alive he'd be 46 this year'
See also:

30 Dec 01 | Europe
Cyprus to hunt for missing people
04 Dec 01 | Europe
Cyprus veterans share chemistry
08 Jan 02 | Europe
Turkey foresees Cyprus settlement
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