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Europe

United Nations launches last-ditch effort to reunite Cyprus

The UN's efforts to reunite the island nation of Cyprus have been stalled. As the possibility of a permanent division looms, the European Green party is making its own efforts to restart the reunification process.

Ban Ki-moon visits UN buffer zone in Cyprus

Ban has made Cypriot reunification a top priority

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hosts the leadership of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots on Thursday in what is being described as a final effort by the UN to revitalize reunification talks.

Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and Dervis Eroglu, president of the de facto Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, are to meet with Ban in New York. The UN's Cyprus envoy, Alexander Downer, said the secretary-general "wants to hear face-to-face with the leaders their perspective of how the talks are going and what the prospects are."

Eighteen months of UN-sponsored talks have ground to a virtual halt amid mutual recriminations. There are growing signs that these talks could be the last and that the island's partition could become essentially permanent - something that has the potential to scupper Turkey's efforts to join the European Union.

EU intervention

Daniel Cohn-Bendit

Cohn-Bendit says ending the EU's embargo could be a new impetus for reunification

The European Green Party held talks in Istanbul earlier this month, taking the opportunity to build support for its efforts to break the current stalemate in Cyprus. The party has proposed an end to the EU's economic embargo against the Turkish North as a first step in restarting reunification talks.

"The opening of North Cyprus, of the ports and airports, is a question of trade," said party co-chair Daniel Cohn-Bendit. "It's a majority decision, so one nation cannot block it. So we are for the opening the ports and airports in Northern Cyprus. Then Turkey will open its ports and airports for the Greek Cypriots."

The initiative has been made possible under the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force last year and removed the right of EU member states to veto certain initiatives, including those related to trade. Until now the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government has used its veto to stop any move to ease the trade restrictions on the North.

Turkish military presence

During his visit to Istanbul, Cohn-Bendit met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He said the UN's Cyprus talks needed fresh impetus, and that if the Greens are successful in lifting the embargo it will open the door to concessions from Turkey.

Turkey is believed to have more than 40,000 soldiers on the Turkish side of the island, and their removal remains a major stumbling block to reunification talks.

"We want Turkey to say if trade is open with North Cyprus, they will start to reduce the number of soldiers in North Cyprus," said Cohn-Bendit.

Turkish soldiers in line

Turkey lends substantial military support to Turkish Northern Cyprus

Support for reunification divided

The Greek Cypriots are lobbying hard against any attempt to remove their veto over an end to the embargo, arguing that it is crucial to put pressure on the Turkish Cypriots to agree to reunification. But the possibility of a permanent division of Cyprus may lend support to the Greens' initiative.

Ankara claims Brussels had promised to end the embargo after the Turkish Cypriots in 2004 voted in a referendum to support a UN-sponsored reunification plan, while Greek Cypriots voted against it.

Turkey says it will not open its airports and ports to the Greek Cypriots until the embargo is lifted, and last week Turkish EU affairs minister Egemen Bagis ruled out any new concessions over Cyprus.

"By now Turkey and Turkish Cypriots have proven time and time again that they believe in a solution and that they believe in a settlement," he said. "It's now up to the Greek Cypriots to prove that they really do believe in a solution - a comprehensive settlement."

Author: Dorian Jones, Istanbul (acb)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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