Cyprus town's future hangs in Swiss talks balance

Morphou (Cyprus) (AFP) - When Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot leaders meet for land-for-peace talks on Monday aimed at ending the island's decades-old division, the future of a famed orange-growing centre will be a core dispute.

A country town in a sea of orchards near the island's north coast, Morphou once had an almost entirely Greek Cypriot population who still hold title deeds to its rich farmland.

Now named Guzelyurt in Turkish, it is home to around 18,000 Turkish Cypriots, some of whom have lived here for more than four decades.

It was in the early hours of August 14, 1974, that everything changed. Turkish troops were on the move.

"It was summer. We used to sleep with the windows open," said Ourania Peletie, who was 18 at the time.

"I heard a noise. I woke up and looked outside and the sky was full of aeroplanes. I woke my father. We picked up a few things. In 10 minutes, we got into the car and left."

The Turkish invasion was the culmination of years of violence between the island's Greek and Turkish communities in which hundreds of people were killed.

It left Turkey in control of 36 percent of the island -- including Morphou.

For Peletie, it spelt an exile from her hometown that continues to this day.

She fled with her family to the island's second city Limassol, and later moved to the capital Nicosia, where today she works as an administrative manager at a law firm.

- 'My home' -

She is also an elected member of Morphou's town council in exile.

She hopes that this week's talks will result in a deal that brings the Morphou area under Greek Cypriot control.

Sitting in the council's offices on the Greek Cypriot side of the divided capital, Peletie showed AFP large monochrome pictures from the town's orange festivals before 1974.

She said most Greek Cypriots from Morphou wanted to return to their homes.

"If Morphou is returned I will definitely go back. I have a house in Nicosia. But my home is in Morphou," she said.

It has always been agreed that some of the territory currently controlled by the Turkish Cypriots will be ceded to Greek Cypriot control in any peace deal.

Turkish Cypriots made up just 18 percent of the island's population in 1974 but they currently control more than a third of its territory.

It is an issue for Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci to thrash out in five days of intensive talks in Switzerland this week.

Anastasiades's government has said repeatedly that Morphou must be returned to Greek Cypriot rule under any peace deal.

But that would spell new displacement for the Turkish Cypriots who currently live in the town, many of whom are themselves refugees from other parts of the island.

Ramadan Kandulu says he never chose to move to Morphou. In 1974, he and his future wife, Gonul, were living in Kantou, a village near Limassol.

When Greek Cypriot fighters occupied their Turkish-majority village, Ramadan's family fled to a nearby British military base. Gonul's soon followed.

"We were going to get engaged in August. We had built a new house in Kantou," he said. "We left everything there."

Ramadan headed to the Turkish-occupied north, where authorities gave him an abandoned Greek Cypriot-owned house in Zodeia, a village just outside Morphou known as Bostanci in Turkish.

He said it was empty and dirty. Today, it is a neat three-bedroom house with walls covered in family photos.

- 'We also had land' -

Gonul's family was given a house in Morphou and a nearby orchard -- both the property of displaced Greek Cypriots.

A UN soldier delivered Gonul's wedding dress, which she had abandoned when she left the south. In 1975, the couple were married.

Ramadan, 70, a retired accountant, tends thousands of orange and pomegranate trees in the nearby orchard Gonul inherited from her parents.

He said most townspeople would reject any agreement that would return Morphou to Greek Cypriot control.

"Over such a long time people have settled and organised their lives here," he said.

"I know it's hard for [refugees from 1974], it was their property, but this issue should be solved with compensation. We also had land we left in the south."

Under a peace blueprint drawn up by UN mediators in 2003, Morphou would have been handed over to Greek Cypriot administration.

The plan was approved by Turkish Cypriot voters but Greek Cypriot voters overwhelmingly rejected it.

Attitudes have since hardened.

Sinasi Ozdes, spokesman for a residents' campaign group, the Guzelyurt Civil Society Platform, said he accepted there would have to be territorial concessions in any peace deal but would vote against any agreement that surrendered control of the town.

"We're going to give something -- but not Morphou," he said.

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