Court fines Cyprus over 'missing' dead soldier

AP News
Posted: Nov 29, 2012 2:51 PM
Court fines Cyprus over 'missing' dead soldier

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Andriani Palma says she feels cheated for every one of the 22 years she wasn't told her husband was killed during fighting in the summer of 1974 that split tiny Cyprus along ethnic lines.

Living with the hope that Charalambos Palmas might one day return to her and her children, she lived in a kind of suspended animation, unwilling to remarry and move on with her life.

"They denied me my youth, the joys of being young, they denied me everything," Andriani, who is now 65, said. "There was prejudice in those times. I couldn't take the kids places, because they didn't have a father ...We've lived a mockery all those years."

But on Thursday a court offered her some sense of justice by ordering the Cypriot government to pay €324,000 ($417,668) in damages to her and two daughters, Kalliopi and Christina, for denying them the right to know for two decades.

"After so much struggle, I feel vindicated," she says. "It's hardly the money, but the moral satisfaction."

Army authorities buried then 28-year-old reservist Palmas along with some 30 other Greek Cypriot soldiers in a mass grave marked "unknown" at Lakatamia cemetery on Nicosia's outskirts shortly after the fighting stopped. The soldiers were killed in heavy fighting as invading Turkish troops advanced in the northern Nicosia suburb of Ayios Pavlos.

Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. The war split the island into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north where Turkey maintains 35,000 troops, and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south.

In its ruling, the court said the state failed to carry out a timely probe into Palmas' fate, even if it had evidence indicating that he was dead.

The court said it awarded punitive damages on top of general damages to underscore how seriously the human rights of the soldier's family were breached.

"Sufficient evidence has been presented which demonstrates that the republic evaded its obligation to inform relatives in a proper and timely fashion and so violated their right to the truth, condemning the plaintiffs to such hardship that it bordered on inhumane treatment," the court said in its ruling. "The republic's behavior toward the plaintiffs from 1974 until now was, at the very least, insulting."

Palmas' lawyer Achilleas Demetriades said it's the first time that a Cypriot court has awarded punitive damages in a missing persons case.

Attorney General Petros Clerides said the state is "seriously considering" appealing the ruling.

Cypriot authorities only confirmed to Andriani Palmas her husband's death in 1996, two years after she started receiving bits of information about his real fate. It was three years later that his remains were returned and after Andriani in a fit of despair went to the cemetery to dig her husband up on her own.

Andriani's oldest daughter Kalliopi, who was only 5 in 1974 said a photograph of her mother, sister and their children standing next to her father's remains is the only family portrait that they have.

Kalliopi said the stigma of growing up without a father figured prominently in her childhood. But that was eclipsed by the bitter awareness of having grown up in the offices of the very same officials who kept the truth from her, even as her family took part in countless missing persons demonstrations clutching a photograph of her dad.

"What annoyed me was that my father wasn't just another faceless missing person, he had a name, he was somebody," she said.

About 1,500 Greek Cypriots and 500 Turkish Cypriots were officially listed as missing in intercommunal fighting in the early 1960s and the Turkish invasion.

An exhumation and identification program by the U.N.-led Committee on Missing Persons has returned the identified remains of 264 Greek Cypriots and 66 Turkish Cypriots to their families since it began in 2006.