Page last updated at 15:26 GMT, Friday, 9 March 2007

Symbolic Nicosia wall comes down

By Tabitha Morgan
BBC News, Nicosia

This was nearly a momentous day in the history of Cyprus - nearly, but not quite.

People watch demolition work
Locals monitored developments closely

The unannounced decision by the Cyprus government to demolish the wall and military checkpoint on Ledra Street in the middle of the old city of Nicosia has changed the look of the capital.

Another breach has been made in the east-west line - the Green Line - that separates the two halves of the island.

But remaining political obstacles mean that the demolition that took place during the hours of darkness has, for the time being at least, only symbolic significance.

Until these obstacles are overcome, a psychological barrier will remain in place, preventing Greek and Turkish Cypriots mingling in what was - until the division of the city decades ago - Nicosia's main commercial thoroughfare.

The Turkish Cypriot authorities have already opened up their side of Ledra Street on the northern edge of the Green Line.

But the Cyprus government insists that, despite the demolition of the barriers on the southern side, the street will not reopen until a number of conditions are met.

The opening of the crossing point for free movement of people does not mean that the Cyprus problem will be solved.
Pambos, Greek Cypriot refugee
These include the removal of Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags, and the disengagement of Turkish troops from the area.

"The obstacle was not our checkpoint," said Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos. "The obstacle is the presence of the Turkish army."

Securing agreement on these contentious issues is unlikely to be easy or swift.

Drifting further apart

Any optimism engendered by the latest developments on Ledra Street is also dampened by the poor political atmosphere on the island. In the absence of a diplomatic process, the two communities appear to be drifting further apart, rather than working for reconciliation.

A total of five crossing points are open at various points along the dividing line. But in recent months the movement of Greek and Turkish Cypriots through them has noticeably declined.

UN soldiers look on as a bulldozer pulls down the wall.
Ledra Street used to be the main commercial thoroughfare

Both foreign diplomats and ordinary Cypriots appear to agree that while the removal of barriers on both sides of the Green Line in Ledra Street is a positive step, there is still a long way to go before Nicosia or the island as a whole are reunited.

"It's a good move, but one that needs to be part of a much wider process, " said British High Commissioner Peter Millett, who came down to the line to watch the work in progress.

Pambos, a 48-year-old Greek Cypriot refugee from the northern town of Lapithos, was pessimistic about the chances of early political progress.

"The opening of the crossing point for free movement of people does not mean that the Cyprus problem will be solved. They are two different things."

Waiting for the politicians

But not everyone in Ledra Street was so pessimistic.

"'We are waiting to see what happens," said Maria, an office worker who used her coffee break to see the action.

"We are hopeful. The wall is now down so that is a step forward."

For the time being, then, Greek and Turkish Cypriots can do no more than wait for their politicians to find solutions to some of the longstanding problems that have kept the island divided.

Only when the politicians succeed will that momentous day arrive when shoppers from both communities are free to walk the full length of Ledra Street.

Nicosia map

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