Resolution sought amid EU drive -- Vy Toula Vlahou, Globe Correspondent, 4/21/2002 (Courtesty of H.E. Ambassador Erato Kozakou Marcoulli, Ambassador of Cyprus to the US) -- ATHENS - While the world focuses on calming the Middle East conflict, a crucial effort is being made to settle another long-festering religious and ethnic hot spot: the divided island of Cyprus.
For 28 years, UN troops have stood between feuding Greek Cypriots in the south and Turkish Cypriots in the north. Throughout the years, the partition of the eastern Mediterranean island has been a main source of enmity between Greece and Turkey.
Now, with the European Union promising Cyprus membership as early as next year, the two sides are looking with urgency for a breakthrough. The stakes are high, and nothing is guaranteed. Any agreement depends on solving very contentious issues, not least among them: How to bring the two longtime foes together again in a workable country?
''There is a new wind blowing,'' UN mediator Alvaro de Soto said when UN-sponsored talks on Cyprus began in mid-January.It's still unclear whether the two sides can overcome the profound mistrust in place since Turkey invaded in 1974 following a short-lived coup by supporters of a union with Greece. Without a settlement, there are fears that EU membership for Cyprus - under the umbrella of the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government - could touch off fresh conflict on the island or provoke retaliation from Turkey.
Mindful of the consequences, envoys from the United Nations, the EU, and the United States are exerting pressure for a solution.
Turkey invaded Cyprus on grounds that it wanted to protect the Turkish minority. The island, just over half the size of Connecticut, split into Orthodox Christian Greek Cypriots in the south and Muslim Turkish Cypriots in the north, recognized only by Turkey.The economically depressed Turkish Cypriot side is heavily reliant on Turkey, which has 35,000 troops there.
In February, the UN Security Council urged the two sides to consider this opening as the last and best chance for peace. It asked for even a hint of progress by June before the EU expansion moves into high gear. Cyprus is among six nations expected to join in the next round. The others are Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, and Latvia.
Turkey, however, wants a settlement before Cyprus enters the EU and has threatened to annex the occupied northern third of the island if the membership goes through. Such a move would endanger Turkey's own bid to join the bloc in the coming decade.
The EU, loath to be bullied by non-member Turkey, has warned that Cyprus's entry is independent of the outcome of talks.'
'A settlement would be a win-win option we desire, and we believe it is achievable, but it's not a precondition,'' James Pond, a member of the EU's Cyprus team, said during a forum Thursday in Athens.
Without a settlement, however, Turkish Cypriots could be left in no-man's land: de facto EU citizens with no access to EU privileges such as the right to work and freely travel across the bloc. The prospect of EU membership has enticed thousands of Turkish Cypriots to head south in search of Republic of Cyprus passports.
The success of the UN-sponsored talks rests with two longtime political adversaries in their twilight years: the 83-year-old Greek Cypriot president, Glafcos Clerides, and 78-year-old Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. ''There is a genuine basis for optimism. Both Denktash and Clerides realize this is their last hurrah,'' Alfred Moses, the US special emissary for the Cyprus problem from 1999-2001, wrote in a recent commentary in the International Herald Tribune.
Moses argues that the Cyprus problem ''is a microcosm of the larger ethnic conflict that extends across much of Europe and Asia.''
But four months into the talks, early optimism has faded due to little progress.''The big thing that is worrisome is if there is no interim agreement by the time Cyprus gets into the EU, it will effectively end the talking process.'' said James Ker-Lindsay, a political analyst in Nicosia, the Cypriot capital. ''The island would remain separated.''
Many Western commentators and negotiators attribute the stalemate to Denktash and the Turkish government, who insist on two independent states under a weak federal administration. A Turkish Parliament member, Bulent Akarcali, said in Athens last week that there should be equal power sharing between the 135,000 Turkish Cypriots and the more than 600,000 Greek Cypriots, who want a single nation in line with UN resolutions.
Other UN resolutions, rejected by Turkey, call for the withdrawal from the north of Turkish troops and settlers, whose numbers range between 35,000 and 60,000. The return of refugees and property claims on both sides are other thorny issues.''We face a deadlock,'' Cyprus's Parliament speaker, Dimitris Christofias, said last week after meeting with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. ''We're not having dialogue. We're having two monologues.''
This story ran on page A13 of the Boston Globe on 4/21/2002.
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Conflict in Cypress gains new urgency