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Divided Cyprus

January 11, 2011

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been in Cyprus on the second leg of a two-day Mediterranean tour. She held talks with Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias, focusing on the conflict dividing the island.

President Dimitris Christofias and Chancellor Angela Merkel
Merkel met Christofias in the divided capital, NicosiaImage: AP

German Chancellor Angela Merkel continued her two-day Mediterranean tour in Cyprus on Tuesday, with talks focusing on the conflict that has divided the island for more than three decades.

After meeting with Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias, Merkel said it was up to Turkey to put more effort into resolving the situation. She praised the steps taken by the Cypriot government:

"They've really proved their willingness to compromise, but unfortunately there hasn't been any response [from the Turkish side] so far," Merkel said after talks in the Cypriot capital, Nicosia.

Stefanos Evripidou, chief reporter for the Cyprus Mail newspaper, said that Merkel's criticism of Turkey went down well in the capital.

"Coming from a powerhouse like Germany, these are pretty strong words," Evripidou told Deutsche Welle. "In a sense [Merkel is] giving her vote of confidence to President Christofias' handling of the Cyprus problem."

Merkel added a personal note to the visit, commenting that she knew what it was to grow up in a divided country, and pledging her support for peace negotiations.

"We in Germany, and of course I personally, understand what the division of a country means," Merkel added. The German chancellor grew up in the former East Germany.

Christofias said the visit was of "fundamental importance" for peace talks, which are now in their third year.

It is the first ever visit to the eastern Mediterranean island by a German head of state. On Monday, Merkel held talks with politicians in Malta, where she discussed the state of the euro single currency.

Both Cyprus and Malta adopted the euro in 2008.

The visits are aimed at signaling the importance of good relations with the European Union's smaller member states.

A divided nation

The island of Cyprus has been divided since 1974, after Turkey invaded the northern third of the country in response to a Greek-inspired coup. The breakaway northern Turkish Cypriot region is only recognized by Turkey, whereas the Greek Cypriot south receives international recognition.

Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the south enjoys the benefits.

Turkey still maintains 45,000 troops in the northern part of the island, while 850 UN troops patrol the so-called Green Line, which divides North and South Cyprus.

The capital, Nicosia, lies on the dividing line, and after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, became the world's largest divided capital city.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that peace talks to end the division of Cyprus could fail if a "substantive agreement" is not reached by the time voters go to the polls in late 2011.

Despite progress on issues of governance, months of negotiations have failed to bridge the gap between the two communities.

During a trip to Turkey last year, the chancellor described Cyprus as a key issue preventing Turkish accession to the EU.

Author: Joanna Impey (AP, dpa)
Editor: Michael Lawton