The great divide: Ban offers Cyprus encouragement, but no solution


The UN secretary-general's visit prompts protests, while introducing no breakthroughs in the lumbering Cypriot reunification talks.

By Baris Yilmaz for Southeast European Times -- 04/02/10


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visits the Turkish area of Nicosia at the Ledra Street crossing point. [Getty Images]

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's visit to the divided island of Cyprus wrapped up Wednesday (February 3rd) with a call for Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders to expedite their peace talks.

The visit was ultimately little more than symbolic, prompting a boycott by Greek Cypriots of a reception for Ban. The protestors were upset because he visited the seat of Turkish rule in the north.

"Our differences remain," said Turkish Cyprior leader Mehmet Ali Talat after the three-day visit.

Added Ban: "No no one is under the illusion [that the Cyprus problem is easy to solve]. Peace negotiations never are. But the time is ripe to push ahead . This is a process that is by the people of Cyprus, and for the people of Cyprus."

Cyprus has been divided along the boundaries of its Greek and Turkish populations since 1964. Talat and his Greek Cypriot counterpart -- President Dimitris Christofias -- have been talking face-to-face to mend the differences since September 2008. A host of unresolved issues continue to encumber the process.

In a joint statement, Talat and Christofias underscored mutual determination to achieve a solution, saying: "Over the last three weeks, we have worked … mainly on the Chapter of Governance and Power Sharing and achieved important progress."

Pressure for a breakthrough is mounting with the upcoming Turkish Cypriot presidential election in April. Talat is being challenged by the increasingly popular Dervis Eroglu. If Eroglu wins, observers fear the reunification process could be derailed. If so, Turkey's EU process would be seriously damaged.

Because the Greek Cypriot administration is already an EU member, skeptics believe the Greek faction is using the talks to squeeze concessions from Turkey in return for support for Ankara's EU candidacy.

Despite Ban's personal touch and the promise of progress -- each side says they are closer now than when they began, though there is nothing to show for it -- the UN leader's visit prompted a wave of protests by Cypriots.

Ban met with Talat in his presidential office in the Turkish Cypriot north. The venue sparked protest by Greek Cypriot political leaders, with the government expressing displeasure.

The four Greek Cypriot political parties expressed outrage and boycotted a reception for Ban at the Ledra Palace Hotel. The move was condemned in the press as "an unnecessary show of bad faith which challenged Ban's assertion that 'now is the time for the Cyprus solution'," said an opinion piece in the Cyprus-Mai .

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Turkish columnist Yusuf Kanli pointed to the boycott as reason for pessimism.

"It is this mentality of the Greek Cypriot leadership and political elite that has been preventing a settlement on the island for the past 45 years," Kanli wrote in the Hurriyet Daily News.

Liberal academic and columnist Mensur Akgun, who has long criticised Turkey's lack of willingness to work towards a solution in Cyprus, sees no prospects now.

"We shouldn't deceive ourselves. There is no single [sign of] progress in Cyprus peace talks," he wrote in the liberal daily Referans. "As long as the Greek Cypriots believe that they have hijacked Turkey's EU progress, it is impossible to reach a just solution in Cyprus."

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