UN Report Calls for Cypriot Problem Solving

By Scott Squires
Dec. 1, 2010

NICOSIA, Cyprus — In attempts to jumpstart peace negotiations, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has called for the leaders of Cyprus to come forward with real solutions to the Cyprus dispute.

In a report issued Nov. 25, the Secretary General called for greater cooperation and problem solving by respective community leaders in Cyprus, Republic of Cyprus President Demitris Christofias and President Dervish Eroglu of the non-recognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

“Now is the moment to dedicate all efforts to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion,” the Secretary General said. “Having stated their commitment to the shared goals of a bizonal, bicommunal federation, the leaders of Cyprus are expected to make good on their commitment to that outcome.”

The report was issued following Nov. 18 negotiations between the Secretary General and the two Cypriot leaders in New York City.

“The United Nations stands ready to maintain its enabling role of a Cypriot-led, Cypriot-owned process,” Ban said.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when the Turkish army invaded the island in response to a Greek-backed coup that intended to overthrow Cyprus’ first president, Archbishop Makarios III.

Many issues continue to impede a diplomatic solution in Cyprus. The question of property rights of thousands of Cypriots from both sides forced to abandon their properties in 1974 is a major issue of contention. The Greek Cypriot side maintains that Greek Cypriots with property in the north should be able to choose between land exchange, monetary compensation or reinstatement.

“This is unacceptable to the Turkish Cypriots who say that 70 or 80 percent of the property in the north is owned by Greek Cypriots,” the Secretary General said. If reinstatement were allowed the notion of bizonality would be undermined, according to the Turkish Cypriot side.

Economic issues also remain disputed. The Republic of Cyprus is uncomfortable with the massive 259 million Euro aid assistance delivered directly to the Turkish Cypriots to upgrade the infrastructure and improve education systems. The package was agreed following Cyprus’ accession to the European Union in 2004, despite Cyprus’ objections. Greek Cypriots argue the aid only encourages secessionist tendencies of the north and reduces Turkish Cypriots’ incentive to compromise at the negotiating table, according to the UN.

“The UN’s position on this is clear. We consider that greater economic and social parity between the sides would not only make unification of Cyprus easier, it would make it more likely,” UN Political Affairs Officer Tim Alchin said.
Achieving peace diplomatically can be difficult in a country where the past is not easily forgotten. The UN has played mediator on the island since 1964 when UNFICYP, or the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus first arrived, to quell inter-communal fighting between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

“Our role is to be objective,” UN spokesman Rolando Gomez said. “The two sides negotiate under the parameters set by the sides and endorsed by the UN, which is the creation of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.”

The UN also conducts development projects and de-mining operations, and manages civilian activity within the 180 km wide buffer zone. On the peacemaking side, the United Nations facilitates diplomatic negotiations between the two communities through its Good Offices mission. “We have a light touch,” Mr. Alchin said. “We facilitate the deal, but we don’t impose.”

The Nov. 18 talks were meant to give a boost to negotiations so real progress could be made before elections are held in May in Cyprus and in June 2011 in Turkey. Polls show that while Cypriots want peace, there is waning faith in the effectiveness of the ongoing negotiations, according to the Secretary General’s report.

“We have supported this process from the start and will continue to do so,” Mr. Alchin said. “But in the end, the destiny of Cyprus lies in Cypriot hands. The talks cannot be an open-ended process.”

Christofias and Eroglu are set to meet in Geneva at the end of Jan. next year, and their success or failure will depend on their willingness to come up with working solutions, according to the Secretary General.

As the outcome of the negotiations is uncertain, the latest Secretary-General reports also put into question the United Nation’s continued presence in Cyprus.

“There is pressure on peacekeeping operations throughout the world, not least from a financial point of view,” Mr. Alchin said. “The Secretary-General recognized this by informing the Security Council, that he will keep UNFICYP under review, not least through a broader assessment of our presence here, which will adjust to what happens on the ground.”