Reunification talks collapse before Cyprus EU stint

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said progress in the talks to reunify the divided island of Cyprus was insufficient to call an international conference. The statement appears to put an end to hopes that Cyprus' upcoming EU presidency could be a catalyst for the resolution of the Cyprus problem.

The announcement was made by Ban's spokesperson on Cyprus on 21 April after Ban met with Alexander Downer, the UN special advisor on Cyprus (see background).

Turkish and the Greek Cypriot media reported that Ban held telephone calls earlier that same day with the Republic of Cyprus President Demitres Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervi? Ero?lu.

UN mediators had previously said they wanted a deal ending four decades of separation between ethnic Greeks and Turks on the Mediterranean island before Greek Cypriots, who represent the island internationally, take over the EU presidency in July.

Ban has been pressing the two leaders to reach a settlement, and Downer said last month he had planned to call an international conference by early May, bringing together Britain, Greece and Turkey with the aim of putting the finishing touches on an accord, the Turkish daily Zaman reported.

But Downer said the two sides have not yet converged closely enough on key issues. He said talks are stalled on how executive power would be shared under an envisioned federation and on how to deal with private property losses resulting from the 1974 partition of the island.

The Turkish Cypriot leader accused the Greek side of failure in the reunification talks. Ero?lu has said that there would be no point in carrying on with talks after June, but Christofias insists that negotiations ought to continue even during the country's EU presidency.

Turkish Cypriots believe negotiations during that period would be "meaningless" since Christofias would be preoccupied with EU affairs.

Ero?lu also denied speculation that Turkish Cyprus is considering changing its name – the Northern Cyprus Turkish Republic – saying that he is not disturbed by a name that only Turkey recognises.

Turkish media, citing unnamed official sources, reported last week that if a solution is not found by the time Cyprus takes over the EU presidency on 1 July, Ankara and the Turkish side would initiate a "Plan B". This would entail exerting pressure for the international recognition of the “Turkish Cypriot State.”

Cypriot Defense Minister Demetris Eliades called the purported plan a "provocation". He accused Turkey of "multiplying" settlers in the territory under its control, continuing to usurp Greek Cypriot property, destroying cultural heritage, and of military occupation of the island's northern third.

Despite repeated efforts under the auspices of the UN to bring the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to the negotiating table, the island has remained divided since 1974. 

In an April 2004 referendum, the Greek Cypriots rejected - and the Turkish Cypriots approved - a UN-sponsored unity plan. The plan's failure disappointed EU officials, who had agreed to allow Cyprus to join the EU that year partly in the hope that doing so would encourage a solution. In May 2004, the Greek Cypriot-controlled Republic of Cyprus became a full member of the EU.

At their December 2004 summit, EU leaders agreed to open accession talks with Turkey on 3 October 2005. One of the conditions specified was for Ankara to extend a 1963 association agreement with the EU's predecessor, the European Economic Community, to the Union's 10 new member states. This group includes the Greek Cypriot state, which is not recognised by Turkey.

In July 2005, Turkey signed a protocol extending its customs union to the EU-10 states, but at the same time Ankara issued a declaration saying that its signature did not mean it had recognised the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey also refused to open its ports and airports to Cyprus, as it claims the EU has fallen short of having direct trade with the unrecognised northern part of the island.

Reunification talks are discretely ongoing between the president of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias and the leader of the Turkish Cyprus community Dervi? Ero?lu, under the watch of Alexander Downer, the UN's special advisor on Cyprus and a former Australian foreign minister. 

  • 1 July: The Republic of Cyprus takes over the rotating EU Presidency for the first time since it joined the EU in 2004

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