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Undermining Eroglu’s de-mining proposal

6 April 2014

Last week, President Eroglu suggested launching a project to clear the entire island of land mines as a confidence building measure. Laudable and highly symbolic too, removing explosive devices which still lie in the UN buffer zone. As it so happens, it was announced that the UN was overseeing a land mine clearance in two areas in  the buffer zone but only to remove mines which had been displaced by flooding some months ago.

Sami Ozuslu, a columnist writing for Turkish Cypriot daily ‘Yeni Duzen’ says that no one who supports the Cyprus solution could oppose Eroglu’s suggestion and continues:

“While the citizens in the streets wonder whether a solution will be reached this year and begin to be hopeful again about the issue of the solution, Eroglu considers it appropriate to ‘increase confidence’ instead of deal with substantial issues. And he chooses the ‘minefield’ for [showing] his support for confidence building measures! Undoubtedly, there is no possibility of Eroglu not knowing that a serious fund is needed for the demining issue and this is a project which needs to be spread out over a long time period. That is, if demining will increase ‘confidence’, this is not something which can happen within a short period of time. Taking a decision and a step in this direction is positive of course, but while there an expectation for an early solution from the negotiating table that took months to be established, Eroglu’s proposal has no other meaning than throwing the issue into a ‘minefield’. Moreover, the issue of the ‘minefields’ is not a very appropriate channel from the point of view of strengthening ‘rapprochement’ and ‘cooperation’.

If Eroglu really wants to propose measures with the intention of creating confidence, melting the ice between the two communities and preparing them for the solution, I have some humble suggestions. For example, he could bring together the GSM operators and propose that they ensure that our telephones receive a signal in the south and those of the Greek Cypriots receive a signal in the north. He could open for debate the speeding up of a project for a road which will pass through the buffer zone in order to eliminate the suffering of Louroudjina/Akincilar. The village lost most of its farming land to the buffer zone north and south of the Green Line after 1974 and is only accessible by a road running through a Turkish military camp.”

He, somewhat puckishly suggests a friendly football match between Turkish and Greek Cypriot politicians. I would suggest lining up the ambulances in that case!

Ozuslu concludes with the suggestion that a discussion could be held on proposals such as the leaders’ undertaking an initiative for a ‘peace concert’ in the buffer zone and bringing together artists.

It got me wondering what would have happened if Deep Purple were to play a concert in the buffer zone, where people north and south of the border could come along. It sounds great, in an ideal world, but then I remember the recent incident when ELAM, a Greek Cypriot far-right wing organisation broke into a pretty tame meeting in Limassol being addressed by ex-President Talat. Someone threw a flare which landed near to the US Ambassador, who luckily was unhurt by the incident.

What would happen if something of that order happened at a rock concert, where emotions would be high and alcohol was being consumed? It would be chaos and people would get hurt.

Currently peace negotiators Mavroyiannis and Ozersayer are poring through divergences and now convergences in the talks. There seems to be a sense of fading hopes as both men have pointed to lack of agreement on key issues and both sides have said that time is running out. Maybe it is time to talk Turkey, no pun intended. It seems to me that the only real driver for a lasting solution is mutual financial benefit. Since both communities’ economies are in a parlous state, anything that can be done to alleviate this must be worth pursuing and could adjust attitudes towards the solution, whether it be re-unification or a complete split.

For example, why not re-consider the opening of Famagusta port to the Greek Cypriots? The port is in desperate need of development and that could be a joint project between both sides. Of course, it would need EU and mainland Turkey to help fund it. There must be reciprocation and surely if the Greek Cypriots lift their objection to Ercan being used as an international airport, with international support, that would be a great game changer?

I don’t mention the thorny subject of Varosha/Maras because it would cost millions of euros to redevelop the place, there is disagreement about who should have control of that area and probably should come after negotiations have been largely agreed upon. However, both Famagusta port and Ercan are operational and would benefit from expansion.

It seems that the Cyprus talks are already losing momentum and a courageous move needs to be made and soon, otherwise, it looks like the talks will end up like all the others – nowhere!

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