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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 15:06 GMT
Islanders welcome Cyprus agreement
Turkish Cypriots outside of a cafe in the Turkish part of Nicosia
The current division of the island goes back to 1974
By Gerald Butt in Nicosia

Most people in Cyprus were slow to learn on 4 December that an agreement on a new UN-sponsored peace process had been reached.


This was a total surprise - but a very happy one... perhaps now something will change

Greek Cypriot office worker

It was only when they turned on their televisions in the evening that they heard the surprise news that President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash had agreed to restart direct negotiations in January.

So certain were people that the meeting between the two men - their first face-to-face encounter for four years - would end either inconclusively or in failure, that they did not bother to listen to the news during the day.


A welcome, if totally unexpected, piece of news

Cyprus Mail newspaper
The surprise of Cypriots - Greek and Turkish - at the decision on reopening talks, was nothing compared with the shock at discovering that President Clerides had agreed to dine with Mr Denktash in the Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus.

No president of the Cypriot republic has been to the north since the Turkish invasion of 1974.


Historic Step

Kibris newspaper

"I thought I must have mistaken what the newsreader meant. This was a total surprise - but a very happy one. Perhaps now something will change," said Liana, a Greek Cypriot office worker in Nicosia.

Cautious optimism

During their one-hour meeting the two Cypriot leaders managed pull off another rare feat - by taking decisions that appear to have received approval from the majority of the public on both sides of the UN-patrolled buffer zone that keeps the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities apart.

Greek Cypriots demonstrate against continuing Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus
Agreement is a surprise news for a divided island
The mood can best be summarised as one of cautious optimism.

"It may be premature to talk about a breakthrough," the Greek Cypriot Cyprus Mail newspaper said.

But it described the decision to restart negotiations as "a welcome, if totally unexpected, piece of news".

"There have been so many false starts over the past 27 years of peace talks that nobody expected much to come from yesterday's meeting," the newspaper said.


People's happiness about the latest decisions is tempered by the sense that they do not trust the two leaders involved

Turkish Cypriot journalist
Some Greek Cypriots are also fearful about what a settlement might entail.

Nicos, a shopkeeper in the Ayios Pavlos government housing project in Nicosia - home to refugees who fled from the north at the time of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus - said he would only be happy when he could go back to his house in Kyrenia.

Obstacles

Under the "bizonal" settlement - favoured by the Cypriot government - the chances of many refugees going back to their homes are slim.

Turkish Cypriots protesting against Denktash policies and demanding swift resolution of the issue
Some Turkish Cypriots want concessions, and early EU entry
Coping with this disappointment would be a major element in any future peace deal.

Turkish Cypriots, for their part, are determined never to be a minority among Greek Cypriots again and insist that the two communities should live apart, even in a reunited island.

Until northern Cyprus is in one way or another accepted by the international community, the economy - which depends exclusively on handouts from Turkey for support - will continue to deteriorate.

So there was a widespread welcome from Turkish Cypriots for the prospects of more negotiations starting.

The mass-circulation Kibris newspaper ran a banner headline: "Historic Step".

It went on to say that the outcome of the meeting between Mr Clerides and Mr Denktash had "raised hopes among Turkish Cypriots who have been enduring international isolation and economic hardship".

"In general we have been in a depression and an economic crisis for so long, that we were beginning to feel there was no way out," said a Turkish Cypriot journalist.

"But people's happiness about the latest decisions is tempered by the sense that they do not trust the two leaders involved. They have met so often in the past and we have yet to see anything concrete," he added.

The challenge for Mr Clerides and Mr Denktash will be to make the coming meetings exceptions to the rule thus far.

In future, too, Cypriots will not be waiting for the evening news to find out how the two leaders have been getting on.

See also:

04 Dec 01 | Europe
Cyprus veterans share chemistry
03 Dec 01 | Europe
Cyprus' quiet crisis
23 Nov 01 | Europe
Turkey holds key Cyprus debate
30 Oct 01 | Business
Turkey awaits IMF funds
17 Sep 01 | Business
Turkey rattled by conflict fears
31 Aug 01 | Business
Turkey's economy shrinks
31 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Cyprus
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