Cyprus celebrates independence with no solution in sight


Cyprus' president says conditions will worsen the longer the conflict remains unresolved, but an emerging energy supply may help thaw the frozen dispute.

By Constantine Callaghan for Southeast European Times in Nicosia -- 03/10/12


Cyprus President Demetris Christofias addresses the 67th UN General Assembly in New York on September 25th. [Reuters]

As Cyprus celebrates its 52nd year of independence from the UK, the nation's president warns continued partition of the island undermines peace and security.

"Conditions will worsen as time passes," President Demetris Christofias said.

Partition of the island has been "catastrophic," Christofias said.

His remarks came during Monday's (October 1st) independence celebration, and echoed his address to the UN General Assembly in New York last week.

"Irrespective of outside interventions and conspiracies, if we had acted with prudence and realism, if we had correctly assessed the conditions and balance of powers, it is very likely that we would have avoided the tragedies, as well as the dire situation we are experiencing today," Christofias said.

In 1974, Cyprus was divided following a Turkish military invasion triggered by an unsuccessful Greek-sponsored coup intended to unify the island.

Following the Turkish military offensive, the island was and still remains divided between a Turkish-Cypriot controlled north and Greek-Cypriot south. International law stipulates that sovereignty of the island, including the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus -- recognised only by Turkey -- is exclusive to the Republic of Cyprus.

On Independence Day, Christofias called on "Turkish Cypriot compatriots" to contribute to ending partition and the creation of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.

"We must all keep the vision to solve the Cyprus problem alive," he said.

Numerous attempts to reach a workable solution have been stymied by several issues, including property ownership, territory, Turkish settlers, citizenship and most recently, rights to natural resources.

A 2004 referendum, based on former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's peace plan, was approved by 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots, but overwhelmingly rejected by 76 percent of Greek Cypriots.

The Annan Plan would have effectively created a two-state solution. Turkey, having put much political capital into the Annan Plan, viewed the failure of the Greek Cypriots to approve the referendum and the subsequent accession of the Cyprus to the EU as a slap in the face, a signal that neither the EU nor Cyprus were serious about finding a fair solution to the dispute on island and ending the isolation of Turkish Cypriots.

Panos Ioannides, president of the Movement for Freedom and Justice in Cyprus, an influential lobby group based in Nicosia, told SETimes the Annan Plan was "not a valid solution" for Greek Cypriots, adding that Christofias' commitment to a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation at the UN was "the Annan Plan repackaged in a different envelope."

Between May 2010 and May 2012, the UN facilitated intense talks between the Cypriot president and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu. But neither side was willing to offer concessions and the talks were subsequently downgraded to technical level talks once Cyprus assumed the six-month rotating EU presidency in July, which is being boycotted by Turkey.

At the UN General Assembly meeting last week, Christofias accused Eroglu of deserting talks, calling on him to "return to the negotiating table and continue the negotiations in good faith."

But as Christofias announced that he will not be running in next February's national elections, it is unlikely that any high-level talks will take place within the next five months, leaving the Cyprus conflict stalled.

However, an emerging factor is building below the surface.

Natural gas deposits, estimated to be equivalent to the world's annual total consumption of natural gas, are pitting Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, Lebanon and potentially Syria into a geopolitical struggle over the newly discovered natural resource.

Over the past year, tensions in the East Mediterranean have risen dramatically following Cyprus' decision to drill its offshore gas-fields. Turkey has contested moves by Nicosia to exploit its natural resources by deploying warships around the areas where gas drilling and exploration is taking place and signing exploration agreements with the Turkish Cypriots.

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Christofias denounced the "provocative behaviour and gunboat diplomacy" in New York last week.

An International Crisis Group report claimed that Cypriot gas could create the incentive for new dialogue.

But William Mallinson, a former British diplomat and author of Cyprus, Diplomatic History and the Clash of Theory in International Relations, told SESTurkiye that formal recognition will be a key step.

"Turkey will not recognise Cyprus' right to the gas unless the legal government recognises a separate Turkish Cypriot state," he said.

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