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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 April, 2004, 00:37 GMT 01:37 UK
Doors open for Turkish Cypriots
By William Horsley
BBC European affairs correspondent

UN envoy Alvaro De Soto meets Mehmet Ali Talat, Prime Minister of Turkish Cypriots
Diplomats have been quick to congratulate Turkish Cypriots
After their overwhelming "yes" vote in the referendum on Cyprus unification, Europe has been quick to reward Turkish Cypriots.

The Greek Cypriot "no" to the unification plan has been greeted with international dismay.

But the EU's new policy points to swift and real benefits for their northern neighbours.

And it marks a positive landmark in the long history of the Cyprus dispute.

The European commissioner for enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, made clear after a meeting with EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg that the acceptance by the Turkish Cypriots of the UN-sponsored plan for unification would mean an end to their international isolation.

Corner turned

That isolation dates from the division of Cyprus in 1974.

Then, every country in the world except Turkey refused to recognise the Turkish Cypriot authorities, condemning Turkey's military occupation of the north.

The Turks have always argued that was a grave injustice, because they had to use armed force to stop the forcible union of Cyprus with Greece following a Greek-inspired coup in the south.

The countries of Europe, the US and others now face a tortuous legal challenge to undo 30 years of their own effective isolation of the Turkish-speakers in the north.

The international community is not yet ready to give formal diplomatic recognition to the self-declared "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", which Turkey announced in 1983.

But some Muslim nations are weighing up such a move. And the EU has turned a political corner by saying it will now work with the Turkish Cypriot "authorities" in a systematic way.

Substantial aid

Already the EU has announced some important practical steps.

It will give substantial economic aid for development projects in the north, and seek to improve freedom of movement for people and trade across the Green Line buffer zone.

That could mean many new crossing-points.

Before long it is possible that the sea ports in the north will be permitted to import and export goods freely, and international visitors may be able to fly there directly.

A Turkish Cypriot voter
65% of Turkish Cypriots voted "yes"
The first reaction of some to the mixed referendum result - a "yes" in the north and a hefty "no" in the south - was to assume that the division of Cyprus would be permanent.

Now, the tension of the campaign has given way to a realisation that there could be an unexpected windfall.

Why? Because now that something more like political equality has begun to emerge between the two sides on Cyprus, both may be led into a better dialogue and reap the real benefits of closer trade and other contacts.

As always, detente will depend on the goodwill of leaders on both sides, and of the "big powers" for which Cyprus is a pawn on a big political chessboard.

On the plus side, the referendum has called the bluff of those on both sides in Cyprus who had dug in their heels against any change.

Cyprus will join the EU as a divided island, but change is already under way.

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