Cyprus closest to unification in 40 years, says top Turkish Cypriot diplomat

Cyprus closest to unification in 40 years, says top Turkish Cypriot diplomat

Cyprus closest to unification in 40 years, says top Turkish Cypriot diplomat

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Cyprus is closer than ever to ending a four-decade partition, and its Turkish and Greek sides could agree to the text of a deal by May followed by a referendum, a Turkish Cypriot official has said.

“We are cautiously optimistic. We think we are closer than we have ever been before,” Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Emine Çolak told Reuters in an interview. “We don’t think the Cyprus problem has got easy; it hasn’t, but we think we have a window of opportunity. It is possible and it is desirable to get to at least the major part of the negotiations and the agreed text by May 2016.”

She said it would be “a good thing” to postpone Greek Cypriot elections planned for May 2016 to ease the negotiating process. 

Asked if there could be a referendum on unification in early 2016, Çolak said: “I wouldn’t think early 2016, but maybe within 2016. I don’t see any reason why not.” 

The island’s Greek and Turkish communities have lived estranged since 1974, when a Greek-inspired coup was followed by a Turkish operation to secure relief in the north of the island, though the seeds of partition were sown soon after independence from Britain in 1960. 

The frozen conflict has been a permanent fixture on U.N. Security Council agendas for at least half a century, and Cyprus hosts one of the world’s oldest peacekeeping forces, monitoring a 180-kilometer cease-fire line that slices through the eastern Mediterranean island. 

On paper, the two sides agree on reuniting Cyprus as a two-zone federation under a federal umbrella, but Çolak cautioned there were hurdles that had festered for decades. 

There are deep differences on how the new state would function and the degree of autonomy each side would have. The exact geography of the dividing line is also a difficult issue. 

Other obstacles include the property claims of tens of thousands of people displaced in conflict, and Greek Cypriot demands that thousands of Turkish mainlanders who arrived on the island after the division should leave.

On the same day, Greek Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı met at the U.N.’s Good Offices on Nov. 18 for talks hosted by the special adviser of the U.N. Secretary-General (SASG) on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, and the deputy SASG, Lisa Buttenheim.

This was the third of six meetings scheduled to take place in November in an effort to arrive at a comprehensive and sustainable solution to the Cyprus issue. The next planned dates for such meetings are Nov. 20, Nov. 23 and Nov. 25. 

The two leaders issued a joint statement, in which they condemned “in the strongest terms” the attacks by Greek nationalists on Turkish Cypriots in Nicosia on Nov. 16. 

“The leaders stand together against racism and hatred, whatever the source,” read a part of the statement. “They jointly affirm that such deplorable acts will be thoroughly investigated and will not go unpunished.”

It stated that Anastasiades had offered to “remedy” the damages incurred by the Turkish Cypriots, while Akɪncɪ expressed his satisfaction with the statement.

“The two leaders will not allow such unacceptable incidents to jeopardize the ongoing negotiations in any way, in particular at the very time they are trying in earnest to find a solution to the Cyprus problem,” it read. 

The meeting of the leaders came a day after German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited the island and met both of the sides’ leaders.