New leader sets sights on Cyprus deal in months
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci insists he is no “magician,” but with some backing from key players, he plans to end 41 years of division in Cyprus in just a matter of months.
The newly elected leader was in New York this week for his first meeting with U.N. SecretaryGeneral Ban Ki-moon on the re-invigorated Cyprus peace talks taking place in a mood of optimism since he won office two months ago.
“I’m not a magician,” Akinci told AFP in an interview. “It would be difficult to say that we can resolve this before the end of the year.”
“But I am prepared to say that it’s a matter of months rather than years. That, I believe.”
Greek and Turkish communities in Cyprus have lived apart for more than 40 years, separated by the U.N.-controlled buffer zone known as “The Green Line” that cuts across Nicosia, the world’s last divided capital.
A string of diplomats have tried to broker a settlement for the island, most recently former Secretary-General Kofi Annan whose plan for a Cyprus federation was roundly rejected by Greek Cypriots in 2004.
This time around, both Akinci and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades, who came to power two years ago, say they are committed to a deal and a new chapter in the long history of Cyprus negotiations opened last month.
“It’s really a known secret that nothing is left for discussion. Every issue on the Cyprus question has been extensively negotiated for many years,” Akinci said.
“What was really needed was political will.”
In his short time in office, Akinci has already scored many firsts.
Last month, he and Anastasiades sat down to have coffee in cafes on both sides of Nicosia, the first time the leaders had crossed the Green Line together.
The two leaders also issued a first joint appeal for information to shed light on the fate of 1,000 people still missing from the 1974 conflict that left the island divided.
A string of confidence-boosting measures have been implemented, such as opening up crossing points, scrapping visa requirements, connecting electricity grids and harmonizing mobile phone networks.
In his meeting with Ban, Akinci requested U.N. expertise to clear some 28 minefields in northern Cyprus after the Greek side provided information on their location.
“This is a leaders-led process, but we will need assistance from interested parties,” Akinci said.
These are Turkey, Greece, the UK, the European Union, the United Nations, and the five permanent members of the Security Council who will be asked to line up behind a final deal with political and financial backing, he said.
Despite years of negotiations on Cyprus, Akinci still expects the property and restitution issue to be a tough one.
The Turkish Cypriot leader, whose family was uprooted from Limassol to Nicosia in the Turkishoccupied north, stressed that so many Cypriots were forced to build new lives and that disruptions should now be left to a minimum.
Pushing ahead, the leaders have scheduled four meetings in June and July while negotiating teams have been holding several rounds of talks to move quickly toward a deal.
The new optimism over Cyprus is shared by diplomats at the United Nations who cite Greece’s financial woes and Turkey’s struggling bid to join the European Union as incentives to back a settlement in Cyprus.
The real challenge will be selling a final deal to the Cypriots themselves, in particular on the Greek Cypriot side, where some fear a loss of power in a federation with the Turkish north.
“We will be seeking the possible,” said Akinci. “And the possible is a federation.”