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Cyprus patrols March 31, 2008

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Turkish army chief says troops will stay on island despite peace deal

Turkey’s armed forces chief said yesterday that some 40,000 Turkish troops will remain on Cyprus despite a new peace deal between Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot leaders.

“There is no such thing as pulling troops out tomorrow if there is a peace deal today,” said Yasar Buyukanit, wrapping up a four-day visit to the island’s Turkish-occupied north areas. “The army needs to observe and be fully convinced on how safe Turkish Cypriots are,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse.

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Drawing pictures on Nicosia’s Ledra Street March 28, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus News, Cyprus Occupied, Politics.
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Children from a junior high school in Cyprus draw pictures of the buffer zone on Nicosia’s Ledra Street, in place since the Turkish invasion in 1974 but in the process of being dismantled, as UN peacekeepers sweep the area for land mines.

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Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias said yesterday that finding a settlement to reunify the divided island would be “a very difficult task.” But he said the working groups he agreed to set up following talks with Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat were a practical first step. “They have not been set up for show or for reasons of propaganda but to produce results,” Christofias said.

President Christofias and Cyprus Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou are to visit Washington for talks with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice at the end of next month.

Nicosia’s Ledra Street buffer zone is demined March 27, 2008

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UN crews clear unexploded ordnance around Ledra Street before it opens > UN mine engineers sweeping the buffer zone for unexploded ordnance to allow crews to shore up crumbling buildings ahead of a crossing point opening at Ledra Street in Nicosia, yesterday.

27-03-08_un_crews.jpg  United Nations demining experts swept the buffer zone dividing Nicosia for discarded explosives yesterday as part of efforts to open a crossing in Europe’s last divided capital.

UN spokesman Jose Diaz said demining teams completed a search for unexploded devices or booby traps that could have been left over from the 1974 Turkish invasion, which divided the island along ethnic lines. The sweep of the 70-meter (230-foot) stretch of no man’s land was necessary before work could begin to shore up dilapidated buildings on either side of the pedestrian thoroughfare.

«A six-person mine action team carried out the search with support from UNFICYP (United Nations Force in Cyprus), during which no dangerous items were found,» a UN statement said. The clearance, shoring up and other preparations were expected to last 10 days or more, Diaz said.

Barbed wire first divided Ledra Street, a busy shopping street in the Cypriot capital’s medieval core, in the early 1960s amid fighting between the island’s Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot communities. The leaders of the Greek and Cypriot communities agreed Friday to open a crossing at Ledra Street as a sign of good will before resuming talks on reunifying the island.

A sticking point appears to have been overcome after the Turkish army agreed to keep patrolling soldiers out of sight of the crossing point, officials close to the discussions said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The Greek Cypriot National Guard will also pull its soldiers back.

The new Cyprus’ President of the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus, currently in the south of the island, Dimitris Christofias, and the leader of the breakaway Turkish-Cypriots currently in the Turkish occupied and military controlled north area of Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey, Mehmet Ali Talat, also agreed Friday to reach a reunification deal «as soon as possible.» Aides to Christofias and Talat agreed yesterday to quickly set up 13 groups of experts to bridge the gaps between the two sides on issues such as security, territory, crime and health. The groups will have until June to make as much progress as possible before Christofias and Talat begin face-to-face negotiations.

A UN statement said both sides agreed to set up additional groups if necessary «to ensure that their respective leaders may be able to negotiate as effectively as possible on the full spectrum of issues to be discussed.»

However, Turkish troops will stay in the occupied northern areas of Cyprus until a «just and lasting peace» has been achieved on the divided island, Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat said yesterday. The Turkish forces in the breakaway north have been deployed «in line with international agreements,» Talat said.

«They will continue to conduct their mission until a just and lasting peace has been achieved.» Talat was speaking at a meeting with visiting Turkish army chief, General Yasar Buyukanit, just days after he and newly elected Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias agreed to relaunch peace negotiations stalled since 2004.

Talat said the influential Turkish military, often accused of advocating a hardline position on the Cyprus conflict, «supports us on the issues we are working on, together with the Turkish government.» Buyukanit said: «The Turkish soldiers are here for the security of the Turkish Cypriots. They have ensured their security and will continue to do so.» Turkey, the only country to recognize the government in the occupied north, maintains more than 40,000 troops there.

Turks bar Ledra Street opening in Nicosia March 26, 2008

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Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias said yesterday that he would push to reopen a landmark street in the divided capital of Nicosia after Turkish troops prevented United Nations officials from getting started on clearing up the area.

Turkish troops stopped a UN initiative to clear explosives and other materials from Ledra Street, which runs through the buffer zone that divides northern and southern Nicosia, citing “technical problems.” Meanwhile, sources said that Turkey’s armed forces chief Yasar Buyukanit is due in the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus today. It was unclear whether the trip had been planned.

26-03-08_ledra_street_crossing.jpg  Cyprus President Christofias and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat last week agreed to open up Ledra Street as a symbolic move ahead of renewed peace talks. The Cyprus President yesterday said he believed “barriers would be overcome.” Nicosia, the capital city of the Republic of Cyprus, is the last divided city in Europe.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday said he “warmly welcomed” the agreement by Christofias and Talat to “start full-fledged negotiations under UN auspices.”

Relatives of missing Cypriots to get closure March 24, 2008

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Facility is inaugurated in Nicosia where families can view identified remains

24-03-08_missing_cypriots.jpg  The room where families get a first glimpse of relatives who vanished in fighting in the 1960s and 70s, at a new facility in Nicosia, in the buffer zone separating the Greek and Turkish-Cypriot communities, last Tuesday. The facility will allow families from both sides to see recently unearthed remains of a relative for the first time.

The final act in dozens of human tragedies from divided Cyprus’s troubled past is unfolding in a clinical room with four tables draped in white sheets. Here, in the buffer zone separating Greek and Turkish-Cypriot communities, families will get a first glimpse of relatives who vanished in fighting in the 1960s and 1970s, their hastily dug graves lost in the fog of postwar politics.

“We’ve had instances where children who hadn’t been born when their father disappeared see him for the first time as a skeleton,” said Elias Georgiades, the Greek-Cypriot member of a committee tasked with uncovering the fate of hundreds of missing Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

An international forensics team carries out the actual search for the approximately 1,500 Greek Cypriots and 500 Turkish Cypriots who are listed as missing. To date, the exhumation and identification program has unearthed the remains of 379 missing people. The disappearances began in 1964 at the onset of intercommunal violence. They culminated in 1974 when Turkey invaded the Republic of Cyprus in response to a failed coup by supporters of union with Greece. Many died in battle; others were victims of revenge killings, buried in unmarked graves undisturbed for decades until long-suppressed information guided anthropologists to them.

The new facility, inaugurated this week in the no man’s land that cuts across the island’s capital, Nicosia, will allow scores of families from both sides to see recently unearthed remains of a relative for the first time in decades.

“This is a place where a lot of emotion will unfold,” said Christophe Girod, the committee’s UN-appointed member. Until now, viewings of the remains were held in a cramped office that was once part of the old airport’s installations.

Since July, the families of 57 Greek Cypriots and 26 Turkish Cypriots have viewed the identified remains of their relatives. Remains first undergo laboratory analysis before DNA testing to identify them. Then families are called in.

At one recent viewing, an elderly grieving woman caressed the skull of her husband, weeping softly as she kissed his jaw bone. The Greek-Cypriot man had vanished in 1974, after being snatched from his home late one summer evening, his relatives said. They asked that neither they nor the man be identified. His remains were found in a shallow grave in the northeastern Karpasia peninsula alongside those of 11 others. He was handcuffed to another body lying beside him. Forensic scientists said they could not determine the exact cause of death. But in his relatives’ minds, there was little doubt – his skull was fractured and he had a bullet hole in his shoulder blade. The black-clad relatives viewed the skeletal remains with quiet resignation. “After so many years, we expected this,” said one of the man’s three daughters.

One relative lit incense to waft over the remains in accordance with Orthodox Christian custom. His children said that at least this time, their father would receive a proper burial. There was a palpable sense of relief at the end of the viewing. The relatives embraced the staff and expressed their gratitude, some even managing to smile.

Families take custody of the remains a day or so later after signing release papers. Officials say such viewings have a ceremonial quality to impart a sense of closure. Relatives are first ushered into a sitting room where experts involved in the exhumation and identification process field questions and offer emotional support.

They are then guided into an adjacent viewing area where the remains are neatly arranged on a table. Clothing and other items such as keepsakes and pocket change found at the burial site are displayed nearby.

“The families cry, they shout, they kneel, they kiss the bones, they touch them… they demand the truth, the whole truth,” Georgiades said. “These are sacred moments for the relatives,” he added. “They imagine the last days, hours and moments of the skeleton that lies before them.”

The exhumation program is seen as a way to heal a festering wound that has long impeded reconciliation between the two estranged communities, as efforts to reunify the island remain stalemated. The program has raised around $5.33 million in donations to carry on its work through 2008, with an estimated five years remaining for completion.

“Without closure, the pain and anguish of these families remains. That is why the work of the (committee) is so important, not only to the families themselves, but also to the future of the island,” US Ambassador Ronald Schlicher said.

Leaders in Cyprus get to work for peace March 24, 2008

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Intense consultations begin this week to prepare the ground for renewed Cyprus peace talks aimed at ending more than three decades of division and conflict on the Mediterranean island.

Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias, whose election in February sparked a fresh drive for peace, and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat agreed on Friday to launch reunification talks in three months.

Hopes are high that this time around rival leaders from the separated Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot communities have the political courage and conviction to finally hammer out a road map to peace and end the 34-year divide.

“This is a new beginning that may turn out to be a starting point in a search for a settlement,” Joseph Joseph, Professor of Political Science at Cyprus University, told AFP. “After four long years of stagnation and deadlock, everybody now realizes it could be the last and best hope for a settlement. We have a new President with a fresh mandate, the right attitude and who is forward-looking. Talat is open-minded and flexible. Both leaders have a good personal and political relationship. So, the pressure is there. The right people are there and there is conviction from the international community.”

24-03-08_ledra_street.jpg  The rival Cypriot leaders announced a landmark decision to open Ledra street in the heart of Nicosia, Europe’s last divided capital city, as a gesture of good will. “Ledra Street is a good start but not enough on its own,” an EU diplomat told AFP.

Advisers from both sides will meet today to form working groups and technical committees which will set the agenda for future talks.

Christofias’s chief aid George Iacovou will meet with his Turkish-Cypriot counterpart Ozdil Nami to agree on the number of committees needed and the issues they will tackle. These issues will be a mixture of everyday problems, such as crime and immigration, as well as the more thorny subjects encompassing property rights.

Cyprus leaders agree to start peace talks March 22, 2008

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Cyprus President Dimitris Christo-fias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat yesterday agreed to kickstart stalled peace talks and pledged to reopen a landmark street in the divided capital of Nicosia as a goodwill gesture.

The meeting between the two leaders, mediated by the United Nations’ permanent representative for the island Michael Moller, was the first since Christofias was elected to his post last month. It was “very positive and cordial” and revealed “a great degree of convergence,” according to Moller, who said that the men would meet again in three months. “The leaders have also agreed that Ledra Street should open and function as soon as technically possible,” he added. Officials in Nicosia said the crossing, in the city’s shopping district, could be open within a week.

Until the next scheduled meeting in June, the two leaders’ aides are to set up working committees to examine the resolution of practical issues.

Both leaders appeared positive and determined after yesterday’s talks. “We agreed to work together in a spirit of good will,” Christofias said, adding, “We shall examine any possible disagreement together.” Talat was even more effusive. “This is a new era for the solution of the Cyprus problem,” he said, adding that a settlement could even be found by year-end. Christofias did not refer to a timeframe. “We didn’t mention anything about the basis or parameters of the solution,” he said.