STRASBOURG (Reuters) - The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered the Turkish government on Monday to pay 90 million euros ($124 million) in compensation to Cyprus over human rights abuses committed during and after Turkey's invasion of the island in 1974.
Ankara said before the announcement it would not be bound by the ruling, whose timing it said was aimed at undermining a fresh peace drive on the island. But a former Turkish judge at the ECHR said Turkey would have to pay the compensation.
Turkey sent troops to Cyprus 40 years ago after a brief Greek Cypriot coup staged by supporters of unification with Greece. Cyprus has been split ever since into an internationally recognized southern Greek Cypriot state and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot entity in the north recognized only by Ankara.
Cyprus brought the case to the Strasbourg-based ECHR 20 years ago, demanding financial compensation over missing Greek Cypriots, the property of displaced people and violations of other human rights.
The ECHR ruled largely in Nicosia's favor in 2001, but postponed until now a decision on the sum to be paid. It was not clear why the ECHR took so long to fix the amount.
Turkey, whose aspirations to join the European Union have long been frustrated by the Cyprus issue, had refused to attend hearings prior to the 2001 verdict.
It argued that the Turkish Cypriot state was an independent entity, a point challenged in the 2001 judgment, which says the enclave was financially and politically dependent on Ankara.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara an ECHR ruling on the case would not be binding in terms of international law and drew attention to its timing.
"Just when talks within the framework of comprehensive peace have gained serious momentum in Cyprus, when a new process has begun, led by Turkey ... such a decision is not right," he said, in comments made before the announcement of the verdict.
The Cyprus question has defied a small army of mediators over the years, amid disputes between estranged Greeks and Turks over power-sharing arrangements and the claims of thousands of people from both sides uprooted by the conflict.
A new round of peace talks resumed in February. U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden is expected on the island on May 21-23 to try to spur on the process, Cypriot official sources said.
Hugh Pope, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the latest talks have progressed slowly despite Turkish efforts, due in large part to a lack of trust between Greek Cypriots and Turks.
"This remains an extremely expensive unresolved problem," Pope said, citing costs for Turkey that include military spending and financial assistance to the enclave.
"The compensation is a drop in the ocean compared with the shiploads of costs that not solving the Cyprus solution has incurred for Turkey ... since the 1960s," he said.
Riza Turmen, a former judge of the ECHR and now an opposition lawmaker in Turkey's parliament, said Ankara would be legally required to comply with the ruling.
"It's extremely clear from Article 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which says all signatories are committed to comply with final decisions," Turmen told Reuters.
Reporting by Gilbert Reilhac in Strasbourg, Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara, Michele Kambas in Nicosia and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Gareth Jones