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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 14:27 GMT
Cyprus' quiet crisis
Turkish Cypriots outside of a cafe in the Turkish part of Nicosia
The current division of the island goes back to 1974
Analyst Gerald Butt looks at the crisis which has divided the Mediterranean island of Cyprus for decades.

Of all the world's crises, the one afflicting Cyprus must be one of the quietest.

A glance at the thriving tourism industry is proof enough.

Rauf Denktash
Mr Denktash wants northern Cyprus to be recognised as a state

This eastern Mediterranean island divided by a mined and United Nations-patrolled buffer zone, continues to attract around three million holiday-makers each year.

While there is no prospect of a renewed military confrontation in the immediate future, the Cyprus problem has once again come under the international spotlight, with fresh efforts to find a solution.

The sense of urgency has been prompted by Cyprus' planned accession to the European Union in 2004.

The prospect of a divided country joining the EU is causing alarm of one kind or another on the island and among those outside parties with an interest in the problem.

Rewriting history

The current division of the island dates back to 1974 when, after a right-wing coup, the Turkish Government sent its army into Cyprus with the ostensible aim of protecting the minority Turkish Cypriot community.

Glafcos Clerides
The Greeks will veto EU enlargement if Cyprus' accession is blocked

The way this military intervention is characterised by the two communities is an indicator of the gulf between them.

For the Republic of Cyprus - which has control over the Greek Cypriot southern two-thirds of the island - and for the international community at large, the Turkish action was seen as an invasion and an illegal occupation that continues today.

For Turkish Cypriots and Turkey it was a peace operation that is as necessary today as it was in 1974.

Since that time, diplomats from the UN, Britain and the United States have made repeated efforts to find a formula that would enable the two halves of the island to be reunited.

But as yet no-one has been able to change the status quo.

Joint government

The UN proposal is for Cyprus to become a bi-zonal federation, with a joint Greek Cypriot/Turkish Cypriot Government in the capital, Nicosia.

I take an oath that the Turkish Cypriot community will never become a minority, nor will the island become Greek

Rauf Denktash

Mr Denktash, backed by Turkey, has consistently rejected this formula.

In 1983, he declared North Cyprus an independent state - one that has been recognised only by Turkey - and wants the island to become a confederation of two states.

"I take an oath that the Turkish Cypriot community will never become a minority, nor will the island become Greek," he once said.

For the Turkish Cypriot community, the UN buffer zone is seen as a defensive line of protection.

For Greek Cypriots, on the other hand, it is regarded as a symbol of the inability of the internationally recognised government to exert its authority over the northern part of the island.

I will never surrender my country smaller than what it is

Glafcos Clerides

Its existence also means that the tens of thousands of Greek Cypriots who fled southwards in 1974 cannot return to their homes.

President Glafcos Clerides, borrowing an ancient Greek oath, once told an interviewer: "I will never surrender my country smaller than what it is."

Accession issue

Against this background, the EU accession issue is being addressed.

The Republic of Cyprus, with the full backing of Greece, is determined to go ahead and join the union on schedule, with or without a solution to the island's problem.

The EU is anxious to avoid the thorny problem of having a divided country within the community, while the United States does not want to see relations worsen between two neighbouring Nato countries, Greece and Turkey.

So there is no shortage of incentives for finding a solution, but no sign yet that this quiet crisis is any closer to being resolved today than it has been over the past decades.

Gerald Butt is Gulf Editor at the Middle East Economic Survey (MEES)


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