Efforts to prevent collapse of Cypriot reunification talks
UN chief issues proposals to bridge gap between Greek and Turkish Cypriots
Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades insists talks on Cypriot reunification should remain “Cypriot-owned”. Photograph: Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters
Diplomatic efforts were being made on Wednesday to save talks on the reunification of Cyprus from collapse.
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres issued proposals to bridge the differences between Greek and Turkish Cypriots after Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades sent a letter to Mr Guterres assessing progress.
Cyprus has been divided in two since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded the island following a coup sponsored by a Greek military junta.
Intensive reunification talks between Mr Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci began two years ago, and are said to have made greater progress than ever before.
However, in February the talks were suspended for two months after the Turkish side objected to a vote by Greek Cypriot legislators for public schools to mark a 1950 referendum in support of enosis or union with Greece. While most Greek Cypriots ignore this commemoration, Turkish Cypriots object to it strongly. The enosis referendum, held during the British colonial era, was considered a threat to the existence of their community.
In his letter to Mr Guterres on Tuesday, Mr Anastasiades claimed Turkish Cypriots had called for renegotiation of issues already settled and proposed alterations in the internationally-agreed settlement model: a viable, functional, bizonal, bicommunal federation.
He accused Turkey of souring the atmosphere for the talks by sending a research vessel into Cypriot waters with the aim of preventing the republic from developing gas resources.
The Turkish Cypriots are prepared to accept UN bridging proposals as well as a deadline, and dismiss Greek Cypriot concerns over the deployment by Turkey of a drilling vessel in Cypriot waters. Turkish Cypriots support Ankara’s argument that oil and natural gas found off shore must benefit both communities.
Mr Guterres’s proposals were delivered on Wednesday to Mr Anastasiades by UN envoy Espen Barth Eide, who has lost the Cypriot president’s trust. Mr Anastasiades accuses Mr Eide, a former Norwegian foreign minister, of setting a June deadline for the talks without the authority to do so, and adopting Turkish Cypriot positions on the conduct of negotiations.
Mr Anastasiades also rejects UN initiatives, and insists the talks should remain “Cypriot-owned” and continue until agreement with Turkish Cypriots is reached on all issues.
So far he has Greek Cypriot support. An April poll found 47 per cent of respondents would vote for a federation agreed by both leaders.
A poll conducted last December in the north revealed 41 per cent of Turkish Cypriots would reject federation, 20 per cent would vote yes, and the rest would decide when details were revealed. Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci was seen as weak in defending Turkish Cypriot interests.
Greek Cypriots have been suspicious of UN proposals since 2004, when former UN secretary general Kofi Annan tabled a plan for a federation between Greek and Turkish constituent states joined by a central administration. Greek Cypriots insisted the plan conceded to Turkey’s demands at their expense.
In April 2004, in separate referendums, 75 per cent of Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan plan, while 65 per cent of Turkish Cypriots approved it.
The most serious issues in dispute are Turkish Cypriot insistence on the presence of thousands of mainland Turkish troops in northern Cyprus and continuation of Ankara’s right to intervene militarily to protect the Turkish Cypriot community.
Greek Cypriots flatly reject these demands, arguing acceptance would put them at risk, and negate the republic’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Greek Cypriot concern over a Turkish role has grown since last July’s failed coup in Turkey, and president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s detentions and purges affecting some 200,000 military personnel, police, civil servants, teachers, judges and journalists.
Last month’s Turkish referendum on constitutional amendments conferring on Mr Erdogan sweeping executive powers has stirred serious concern among Turkish Cypriots, particularly those holding mainland Turkish nationality who voted against the amendments.
At least 14 Turkish army officers from the mainland based in northern Cyprus have been detained, while 200 Turkish Cypriot and Turkish policemen are under investigation for ties to Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Turkish cleric accused of involvement in the coup.
Turkish Cypriot sources say members of their community are afraid to criticise Mr Erdogan and the policies he adopts on Cyprus.