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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.

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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.

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.

Nicosia’s Ledra Street opening would shatter symbol of division March 21, 2008

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Hopes remain high for Cyprus breakthrough if crossing is established

Peace talks… > Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias, who is to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat today, said he is ready for peace talks but stressed that there can be no quick fix solution.

21-03-08_ledra_street_crossing.jpg  A Cypriot soldier stands guard by a temporary bulkhead at a Cypriot outpost next to the UN buffer zone that divides the Greek and Turkish Cypriot controlled areas of Nicosia.

The hustle and bustle of shoppers eyeing trendy boutiques on the southern side of Nicosia’s Ledra Street is not unlike what you would encounter in the commercial heart of any European city.

21-03-08_ledra_street1.jpg  Yet steps away from where couples huddle to sip coffee and buskers ply their trade stands an armed soldier guarding a barricade – a stark reminder that Nicosia remains Europe’s last divided capital in its last partitioned country.

Today, the island’s rival leaders are expected to agree on opening a crossing at Ledra Street – a deeply symbolic move that would give a lift to a fresh reunification drive. Up close, there is nothing remarkable about the 2.5 meter (8 foot) high barricade of aluminium and plastic boards.

21-03-08_ledra_street3.jpg  It certainly is less forbidding than the concrete wall torn down a year ago. But it rudely interrupts a vibrant street in the capital’s medieval core, shutting out a decaying no-man’s land of weed-strewn streets and crumbling buildings that slices the island into a Greek-Cypriot south and an occupied and military controlled Turkish-Cypriot north.

The UN-controlled buffer zone has been in limbo since 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to a failed coup by supporters of uniting the island with Greece. And the Ledra Street barricade has been the most poignant symbol of the enduring separation between the once-warring communities.

Expectations are high that Greek-Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat will jointly announce a Ledra opening today to serve as a springboard for the start of talks on breaking years of deadlock on reunification. On Wednesday, President Christofias said Greek Cypriots were «ready to proceed with the opening at Ledra Street.»

The buildup to a Ledra opening has attained an air of inevitability. Nicosia’s Mayor Eleni Mavrou repeatedly said a crossing could be readied within five days of an announcement, despite months of work to shore up derelict buildings on either side of the pedestrian walkway.

Even a key Greek-Cypriot objection to Turkish army patrols near a future crossing that scuttled previous attempts at an opening appears to have been overcome: Aides to Christofias and Talat suggested last week that Turkish troops would pull back enough to remain out of sight of the crossing.

21-03-08_ledra_street2.jpg  Another breach in the buffer zone would be nothing new – five crossings have opened since 2003 when Turkish Cypriots eased restrictions. Greek and Turkish Cypriots have since crisscrossed the divide hundreds of thousands of times, setting aside old trepidation and mistrust to see old friends and visit homes they had been barred from visiting for nearly three decades.

But a Ledra Street crossing would resonate most with Cypriots jaded after decades of stalemate and a heap of failed peace initiatives. That’s because Ledra’s mystique as the embodiment of division would be shattered – offering fresh hope for unification.

«It could serve as an ice breaker, I think we are able work things out with the Turkish Cypriots,» said Chrysanthos Trokkoudes, 69, whose health food store is a stone’s throw away from the barrier.

Ledra Street has been a symbol of separation since January 1964 when British peacekeepers laid barbed wire across the street between Nicosia’s Greek and Turkish Cypriot sectors after brokering a cease-fire agreement.

The street’s division was cemented in 1974 with the invasion. «A symbol of division may now turn out to become a symbol of reunification,» said veteran Turkish-Cypriot politician and former mayor of northern Nicosia Mustafa Akinci. Besides hope, a crossing would offer the tangible benefit of injecting new life in the old town nestled within 15th-century Venetian walls. Tourists and locals eager to satisfy their curiosity would boost commerce, especially in the less cosmopolitan Turkish-Cypriot north.

Cyprus leaders set for dialogue next week March 13, 2008

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The newly elected Cyprus President, Dimitris Christofias, is to meet with Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat in Nicosia next Friday for talks that, it is hoped, will lead to the island’s reunification, a United Nations official said yesterday.

The two leaders will meet at the UN’s Headquarters at Nicosia Airport in the presence of the alliance’s representative on the island, Michael Moller, UN spokesman Jose Diaz said.

The announcement was made following a meeting between the two leaders’ aides that was described by Moller as “very cordial and constructive.” “The two aides reached a great degree of convergence on the issues discussed, including on the possible future opening of the Ledra Street crossing,” Moller said.

However Christofias, leaving for a European Union summit in Brussels yesterday, said he was concerned about the “provocative” stance adopted by Talat over the past few days. Christofias reiterated that a stalled July 2006 agreement between the two sides for the launch of exploratory talks on specific issues should be the basis for renewed talks.