New border crossings open in divided Cyprus, first in 8 years
Cypriot officials opened two new border crossings on Nov. 12 for the first time in eight years, the latest push for peace by the two sides after UN-backed talks collapsed last year.
Dozens of people from the island's Greek Cypriot south streamed across the eastern Dherynia border post, walking past United Nations peacekeepers into Turkish Cyprus.
At the same time, the Lefka or Aplici crossing opened in the northwest of the eastern Mediterranean island.
Ahead of the Dherynia crossing reopening, soldiers removed barriers wrapped in rusty barbed wire and a small group of riot police stood by.
But despite arguments breaking out among onlookers in the run-up to the midday opening, the crowd passed peacefully across the border.
The wreckage of a car could be seen off the main road through the buffer zone, while nearby signs warned of mines beyond a barbed wire fence.
The latest move was welcomed by Elizabeth Spehar, U.N. special representative and head of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Cyprus.
“Today is good day for Cyprus,” she said in a statement.
“These crossing points will play an important role in helping to increase people to people contacts, contributing to build much needed trust and confidence between the communities on the island.”
The development is also seen as a vital step to reviving peace negotiations, which collapsed in acrimony in July last year.
“It’s another asset to the peace talks,” said Chris Charalambous, who was just 18 when war broke out more than 44 years ago.
Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974 when Turkish troops intervened in response to a coup sponsored by the military junta then in power in Athens seeking to unite the island with Greece.
For the first time since fleeing the conflict, Charalambous was looking forward to seeing his house, which he said lies in a military zone.
“I’m just going to walk down and then I walk back, I don’t know if I can stand spending time in the north,” he told AFP.
Cyprus has been divided for more than four decades and the two communities lived isolated from one another until Turkish Cypriot authorities cleared the way for the free movement of people following a previous round of talks in 2003.
The decision to open the two border crossings came after Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı met last month in the U.N.-protected area in the divided capital Nicosia.