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Page last updated at 12:05 GMT, Wednesday, 3 September 2008 13:05 UK

Q&A: Cyprus peace process

The President of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat have begun a fresh round of peace talks aimed at reunifying the island, divided for 34 years.

Cyprus map

A UN peace process ground to halt in 2004, and a programme of confidence-building steps agreed in 2006 brought few practical results.

But hopes are high that these negotiations will produce results in a process that has defeated generations of peacemakers. The UN has described the discussions as a "historic" move.

The latest round is being overseen by UN special envoy and former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

Why is Cyprus divided?

The split occurred in 1974, when a Greek-inspired coup prompted a Turkish invasion of the northern third of the island. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, declared in 1983, is recognised only by Turkey.

The rest of the world recognises the whole of the island as the Republic of Cyprus, although in practice the government only controls the territory to the south of a UN-patrolled "green line".

Why are analysts positive about these negotiations?

Demetris Christofias and Mehmet Ali Talat - both considered moderates - have repeated that they are committed to finding a lasting solution.

"There is a common will and a common desire and a common effort to achieve this target," Mr Christofias said as the talks opened in September.

The two have already met five times this year and are expected to continue to meet once a week until a tangible solution is found. A hotline is also due to be created so they can remain in constant telephone contact throughout the negotiations.

What went wrong in 2004?

The UN made a huge effort to get both sides to agree a peace settlement before Cyprus joined the EU on 1 May 2004. The UN's plan to make Cyprus a federation of two states with a loose central government, was put to the vote on 24 April 2004. The Turkish Cypriots voted in favour, the Greek Cypriots voted against.

What happened to the peace process after that?

It was on hold for two years, until the UN arranged a meeting between Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat on 3 July 2006.

They agreed to a series of further bilateral talks on technical issues - such as water management and environmental protection - and on substantive political issues that will be key to any solution.

But political disagreements appear to have prevented the talks getting under way until Mr Christofias won presidential elections in February 2008.

Mr Christofias, a left-winger, then pledged to work on re-uniting the island, saying he "extended a hand of friendship to my compatriots the Turkish Cypriots and their political leadership".

What developments have taken place at European Union level?

Varosha
The UN proposed returning Varosha resort to Greek Cypriots
The EU agreed in 2004 to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community, and to encourage its economic development. Soon afterwards, the European Commission put forward draft regulations on opening Turkish Cypriot ports and airports to direct trade, and providing 250m euros (£168m) of aid.

Some aid is now on the way to the north of the island, but the Cypriot government has so far blocked the regulation on direct trade, arguing that this would be tantamount to recognising the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

The Finnish EU presidency in the second half of 2006 attempted to unblock the stalemate by proposing putting the Turkish Cypriot-controlled port of Famagusta under UN administration, and allowing it to trade directly with the EU.

The deal could also have involved allowing Greek Cypriots access to the nearby resort of Varosha, which they were forced to leave in 1974.

Was Turkey involved in any discussions on this subject?

Yes, because one of the EU's goals was to encourage Turkey to honour a commitment to open its ports and airports to Cypriot vessels.

Turkey made this commitment in 2005, and the European Union regards it as an unconditional obligation.

Turkey, on the other hand, wants the EU to honour its commitments to the Turkish Cypriots in return

It says the EU made a commitment to facilitate direct trade with the Turkish Cypriot community. Most EU member states and the European Commission take the same view.

In December 2006, EU foreign ministers agreed to slow down talks on Turkey's membership because of its failure to open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic, and the move had a negative impact on prospects of reuniting Cyprus.

Why did the Greek Cypriots vote against the UN plan?

These were among the most unpopular points:

  • Not all Greek Cypriot refugees would have got back the homes they left in the 1970s
  • Some Turkish troops would have been allowed to stay on the island indefinitely
  • Turkish settlers would also have been allowed to stay.

Why did the Turkish Cypriots vote in favour?

Many people wanted to end the community's isolation, and hoped for a rise in living standards.

They ignored the advice of their then leader, Rauf Denktash, to vote against the plan. However, the "Yes" vote has brought them no benefits in practice.

What else was in the UN plan?

The deal would have meant the Turkish community giving up some of the land it holds, leaving it with about 29% of the total.

The presidency of the united Cyprus would have switched back and forth between the two communities.

How has life already changed on the island?

Travel restrictions were eased in April 2003 after 29 years of total division.

Since then, thousands have crossed the border, and emotional meetings between former friends and neighbours have helped overcome some prejudices.


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