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Last Updated: Monday, 23 October 2006, 19:13 GMT 20:13 UK
Cyprus talks 'may be last chance'
Olli Rehn
Mr Rehn said the Finnish initiative was the "only game in town"
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has warned that a new bid to re-unite the divided island of Cyprus could be the last chance of progress for years.

He called on EU member states to back Finnish efforts to open a Turkish Cypriot port to trade with the EU, by putting it under UN control.

So far, Greek Cypriot politicians have blocked all such initiatives.

The EU hopes success would lead Turkey to open its ports to Cypriot vessels, removing one block to its EU entry bid.

The Finns are reported to have suggested putting both the Turkish Cypriot port of Famagusta and the nearby resort of Varosha under UN administration.

Promises

This would allow Greek Cypriots driven out of Varosha more than 30 years ago to start refurbishing their homes and hotels.

EU member states do not recognise the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and it does not qualify for preferential terms of trade, so there is almost no direct trade.

Map of Cyprus
However, the European Union promised in 2004 to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community, after it voted in favour of a UN plan to re-unite the island.

Soon afterwards the European Commission drafted legislation that would allow direct trade with the Turkish Cypriots, but the Cypriot government - a member of the EU since 1 May 2004 - has held it up.

For its part, Turkey promised to open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic before it started EU membership talks last year, but has not yet done so.

Cyprus split in two in 1974, when a Greek-inspired coup prompted a Turkish invasion of the northern third of the island.

Window of opportunity

Finland has taken its initiative as the current holder of the EU presidency.

It is hoping for progress before an EU summit at the end of the year, when a decision could be taken to suspend Turkey's membership talks.

Mr Rehn, speaking in London, said the Finnish plan was currently the "only game in town".

"It really may be the last window of opportunity to make serious progress on the Cyprus issue for several years," he said.


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