Easing burden

THE flurry of political and diplomatic moves aimed at resolving the decades-old Cyprus problem, bodes well for the Mediterrean island's future, as also for Turkey's EU accession prospects.

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Published: Fri 9 Jan 2004, 12:59 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:18 AM

Progress is being made simultaneously on two fronts: in the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, where elections last month produced a deadlock, a prominent moderate nationalist has expressed his willingness to join pro-EU parties in a coalition government. Meanwhile, in Ankara a meeting between the president, prime minister, foreign minister and the army chief resulted in an agreement on the need for reviving peace talks between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communties. It is very important for the political leaders of the island's two sectors to arrive at a speedy settlement ahead of the deadline set by the European Union to admit only the Greek part of Cyprus. For, this can take Turkey - itself a candidate for EU membership - out an embarrassing situation. On the one hand, Turkey feels it has an obligation to protect and financially support Cyprus' ethnic Turkish minority: the breakaway Turkish part is no match for the Greek sector in terms of economic strength and international recognition. On the other hand, Ankara risks incurring Brussels' displeasure if it continues to maintain 30,000 soldiers in northern Cyprus after May 1.

The easiest way out of the mess is for the Turkish Cypriot parties to sink their differences and accept the so-called Annan Plan, either wholly or partly, in view of the proposals' acceptance by the international community as the only viable settlement project. The UN plan envisages a loose federation with broad autonomy for the two ethnic communities and some transfer of territory. Although far from perfect, many islanders are convinced it is just the roadmap they need for a broader reconciliation. Once they have agreed in principle to reunification (as opposed to a two-state solution), the Turkish Cypriot leaders will have to start negotiations with their Greek Cypriot counterparts regarding the project's implementation. If a bi-communal federation can somehow be established before May 1, Cyprus' smooth admission into the EU is guaranteed. This would not only ease a long-standing burden on Turkey but could also smooth Ankara's own path to EU membership.

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