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.

Build­ing Trust

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.”

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