Northern Cyprus set to reopen Cypriot ghost town on ceasefire lines

ANKARA (Reuters) - Northern Cyprus is almost ready to begin reopening the town of Varosha, the breakaway state's premier said on Friday, a former resort area fenced off and abandoned in no-man's land since a 1974 Turkish invasion that split the island.

Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Ersin Tatar said the revival of Varosha, now an eerie collection of derelict hotels, churches and residences, would bring trade and tourism benefits.

The move is likely to anger Greek Cypriots, 39,000 of whom once lived in Varosha before fleeing advancing Turkish forces 46 years ago, and stoke tensions between the two sides.

Varosha, a southern suburb of the city of Famagusta, has been a ghost town since the invasion, following a brief Greek-inspired coup, that partitioned the eastern Mediterranean island along ceasefire lines into Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides.

The former holiday resort has been off limits to all but the Turkish military since 1974.

Varosha has become a bargaining chip in the decades-long dispute between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Ringed by a fence extending into the sea, the town is overrun by cacti and debris.

"Varosha is most definitely going to be opened. The tide has shifted, a new page has been turned," Tatar said. (Northern Cyprus) will become stronger by opening Varosha to tourism."

Tatar gave no specific time line for reopening Varosha.

"Varosha lies within TRNC territory," he said, referring to Northern Cyprus, recognised as a state only by Turkey. "Nobody can take it from us. We are successfully continuing on our path. The inventory work is almost complete, we are in the opening phase."

In February, Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials visited Varosha, marking one of the most concrete steps by either side towards reviving the ghost town.

The island's Greek Cypriots live mainly in the south, a republic that is in the European Union. Several peacemaking efforts have made no significant progress and the discovery of offshore energy resources has complicated the picture further.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Heinrich)