Balkans: February 16, 2004


On February 13 the United Nations announced that the crack in Cyprus may well be healed before the end of April. May 1 is the key date in the current round of negotiations to resolve the 1974 division of Cyprus. That was the year the Turkish Army stepped in to stop a Greek Cypriot-led coup detat. The Greek radicals intended to unite Cyprus with Greece. Turkey, Greece, and Great Britain were all signatories to a treaty allowing any one of the three nations to intervene in Cyprus if the delicate status quo were threatened. Turkey saw the Greek Cypriot coup attempt correctly as a violation of the treaty. Despite years of on and off negotiations, the "Turkish" northern half of the island and the "Greek" south have been unable to resolve their differences. The failure of the UN-sponsored talks from 1999 to 2000 were particularly discouraging. Turkish military forces remain in the Turk Cypriot zone (at last count, nearly 30,000 troops). The European Union, however, began new diplomatic efforts when it agreed to admit Cyprus to the EU. The EU said that unless the Greek and Turk Cypriots reached a reunification agreement by May 1, 2004, the "Greek Cypriot half" would be admitted without the Turk sector. This put Turkey in an interesting bind. Turkey wants to enter the EU. The Turk Cypriot zone (referred to by Turkey as The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, TRNC) thoroughly relies on Turkish troops and Turkish economic subsidies for its existence. 

One of the obstacles to rapprochement has been the Turk Cypriot leader, President Rauf Denktash. Denktash, sometimes with finesse, sometimes with blunt resistance, has thwarted efforts by Turk Cypriot business people to cooperate with Greek Cypriots. (Actually, "intra-Cypriot" business and trade deals are sealed, but with difficulty. Thats a longer story.) Denktashs politics of division trumped economic opportunities. Denktash was by no means the sole obstacle to reunification. As late as early 2003, Greek Cypriot "ultra-nationalists" (fascists is a more apt term) were still interested in acquiring Russian surface to air missiles. However, the looming EU deadline and the desire of Turkish Cypriots to benefit from Euro-zone economics has trumped the fossilized politics and eased ethnic fears. Hence the February 13 diplomatic breakthrough and reunification agreement. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was deeply involved in the final three days of negotiations between Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and Denktash. Annan said the agreement gives the UN the power to "fill in the blanks" if the Greeks and Turks fail to hammer out remaining differences by March 29. The Turkish Cypriots know they will benefit from tourism as well as new sources of capital investment. The Greek Cypriots would like to have the Turkish Army return to the mainland. Both sides would also like to begin to resolve land disputes. Many Greek Cypriots lost their homes in northern Cyprus and Turk Cypriots lost homes in southern Cyprus. Those negotiations will be sticky and highly-charged, but perhaps cash can even assuage that situation. (Austin Bay)




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