Se­cu­rity rid­dle holds an­swer to 40-year Cyprus conundrum

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - Solve se­cu­rity, solve Cyprus

More than 40 years af­ter Turk­ish troops in­vaded north­ern Cyprus, the pres­ence of tens of thou­sands of sol­diers on the Mediter­ranean is­land still looms large over make-or-break peace ne­go­ti­a­tions. Ankara main­tains more than 35,000 troops in Cyprus, and an­a­lysts say that their fate will de­ter­mine whether UN-me­di­ated at­tempts to re­unite Greek- and Turk­ish-Cypriot com­mu­ni­ties are suc­cess­ful. “The se­cu­rity is­sue is so im­por­tant be­cause it’s linked to his­toric trau­mas,” Hu­bert Faust­mann, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ni­cosia, told AFP.

The 1974 in­va­sion of Cyprus, in re­sponse to an Athens-in­spired putsch seek­ing union with Greece, was one of the blood­i­est episodes in post-war Europe. It left hun­dreds dead and forced tens of thou­sands from their homes. More than 1,200 civil­ians are still miss­ing to­day. Faust­mann said that the Turk­ish sol­diers - plus around 1,000 Greek troops - on Cyprus to­day of­fer some com­fort to the two com­mu­ni­ties. “The Turk­ish-Cypri­ots feel they were de­prived of their po­lit­i­cal rights in a vi­o­lent at­tack from the Greek-Cypri­ots. The GreekCypri­ots were at­tacked by Turk­ish troops. (Both) need a safe­guard against a rep­e­ti­tion,” he said. “It’s a clas­sic se­cu­rity dilemma.”

It is one that has scup­pered pre­vi­ous peace drives and the is­sue tops the billing at UN-bro­kered ne­go­ti­a­tions this week in the Swiss re­sort of Crans-Mon­tana. A diplo­matic source told AFP be­fore the talks kicked off Wed­nes­day that Turkey was will­ing to slash its troop pres­ence by 80 per­cent in or­der to reach a deal. Foreign min­istry spokesman Huseyin Muf­tuoglu how­ever de­nied this, in­sist­ing that “the in­for­ma­tion ac­cord­ing to which our coun­try will with­draw troops from the is­land as part of a four stage plan and the per­cent­ages evoked are false.”

But for Harry Tzim­i­tras, di­rec­tor of the PRIO Cyprus Cen­tre think tank, the ac­tual num­ber of troops that may end up leav­ing Cyprus was not a defin­ing is­sue. “It’s a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple” for some Greek Cypri­ots, Tzim­i­tras said. “If there’s a re­duc­tion of 10 per­cent or 90 per­cent, there is still a pres­ence of an in­vad­ing power as they see it.”

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters are Cyprus’ so-called guar­an­tor pow­ers - Greece, Turkey and Bri­tain who re­tain the right to in­ter­vene mil­i­tar­ily and there­fore must as­sent to any se­cu­rity res­o­lu­tion. Tzim­i­tras said the Turk­ish troops con­tro­versy mat­tered “not only be­cause of the phys­i­cal pres­ence of armies on the is­land but also be­cause it’s the one area where the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity comes in.” Bri­tain, which still op­er­ates two mil­i­tary base ar­eas in Cyprus, has in­di­cated will­ing­ness to cede some ter­ri­tory in or­der to ex­pe­dite a deal.

Other ar­eas of dis­pute - in­clud­ing the po­ten­tial re­set­tle­ment of and com­pen­sa­tion for the thou­sands of fam­i­lies who fled their homes in 1974 - are also in­trin­si­cally linked to se­cu­rity. As UN en­voy Espen Barth Eide put it as talks opened Wed­nes­day: “Noth­ing is agreed un­til ev­ery­thing is agreed.” The United Na­tions cur­rently has around 950 peace­keep­ers mon­i­tor­ing a de facto cease­fire on the is­land, and could choose to wield the stick of par­ing back its per­son­nel should the Crans-Mon­tana talks fail.

“Af­ter decades of pour­ing re­sources into the Cyprus prob­lem, the UN may sig­nal that it wants to re­duce its pres­ence on the is­land and its med­i­ta­tion ef­forts, in part to push the Cypriot com­mu­ni­ties to take more ini­tia­tive them­selves,” said James Sawyer, a Turkey and Cyprus re­searcher at the Eurasia Group. Any deal reached in the Swiss Alps would need to be put to twin ref­er­en­dums among Greek- and Turk­ish-Cypriot com­mu­ni­ties, and if a so­lu­tion to the se­cu­rity ques­tion can be found, an­a­lysts be­lieve ef­forts to end one of the world’s long­est-run­ning con­flicts might fi­nally bear fruit. “A deal on se­cu­rity would mean the begin­ning of the fi­nal give and take,” Faust­mann said. “If you have a deal on se­cu­rity you likely get a so­lu­tion to the Cyprus prob­lem. If you don’t the talks will fail.” —AFP

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