Cyprus talks fail, dashing unity hopes
What had been billed as the best chance to reunify Cyprus has collapsed, fuelling fears that the Mediterranean island is heading towards permanent partition. UN-sponsored talks in the Swiss Alps were brought to an abrupt halt last Friday after negotiations descended into “yelling and drama”, ending the greatest hope yet of resolving the 43-year dispute.
The Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, who had staked his political career on a solution, predicted that future efforts to reunite Cyprus under a federal umbrella would be exceptionally difficult. “I wish the next generation good luck on this and that one day maybe Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots will decide together that there is no longer a need for troops on the island.”
The issue of maintaining military intervention rights – insisted upon by Turkey – under a tripartite “guarantor power” security system conceived when Cyprus won independence from Britain lay at the crux of the collapse.
While the UN special adviser Espen Barth Eide, who had chaired the talks, described the positions of both sides as “close but not close enough”, diplomats said it was sparring over troop presence and guarantor status that ultimately scuppered progress.
Turkey has kept an estimated 40,000 soldiers on the island since invading and seizing its northern third in response to a rightwing coup in 1974 aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece.
The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, attributed the breakdown to the insistence of Athens and Greek Cypriots that Ankara pull out, saying: “For Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot side it is not acceptable for troops to be withdrawn.”
Greece’s foreign ministry spokesman Stratos Efthymiou said it was similarly impossible for the Greek side to countenance an envisioned federal Cyprus with occupation troops on its soil and Turkey clinging to the right of unilateral intervention.
“This is a non-starter for us,” he said. “We were willing to negotiate [troop numbers] but Cyprus is an independent EU state. It is not acceptable for a third state to have the unilateral right of [military] intervention.”
Memories of Turkish invasion are vivid among the majority population of Greek Cypriots, one in three of whom became refugees.