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Media Watch 2003

01 May 2003
Source: Guardian
Author: Owen Bowcott
Comment: The following article appeared in the Guardian of London on 1 May 2003
Greek Cypriots end economic blockade of Turkish north

Gesture follows North's breach in island's divide

Greek Cypriot authorities yesterday effectively abolished the economic blockade of northern Cyprus, announcing an easing of trade restrictions across the UN-monitored "green line" which has divided the island since 1974.

The dramatic gesture was a demonstration of goodwill in response to the surprise decision last week by the leader of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Rauf Denktash, to open checkpoints on the old ceasefire line.

More than 150,000 people - well over a tenth of the island's population - have crossed the green line in the past eight days, some queuing for up to 18 hours to visit towns and villages they have been forbidden to enter for the past 30 years.

Yesterday's announcement, contained in a package of measures introduced by the internationally recognised government, will allow locally produced Turkish Cypriot goods to be sold in southern Cyprus and European Union countries and be shipped abroad to third countries. Turkish Cypriot products are currently subject to a trade ban and cannot be freely exported to other countries.

"For the practical adoption of this measure, the contribution and agreement of the European Commission and non-governmental organisations is expected," said Kypros Chrysostomides, a government spokesman in Nicosia.

Three checkpoints have already been opened but the queues of those crossing over have, on occasions, stretched several miles.

Mr Chrysostomides said that the authorities were pressing the United Nations to open more crossing points along the border.

Trade in Turkish Cypriot goods is expected to ease the high levels of unemployment and economic hardship in the north of the island, a state recognised only by Turkey. Cyprus has been divided since the Turkish invasion in 1974 which was prompted by a Greek Cypriot coup organised by the military junta then ruling Greece.

Formal peace talks on reunifying the island, organised by the UN, foundered last month amid disputes over the composition of any future government and restrictions on future sales and transfers of land. Mr Denktash was widely blamed for their collapse.

His initiative to ease border restrictions, designed to deflect criticism and end his breakaway republic's political isolation, came a week after the Greek Cypriots signed the European Union accession treaty preparing the way for joining the union next year.

EU membership will, in practice, apply only to the internationally-recognised, southern Greek part of Cyprus unless the island is unified in time for formal membership in May 2004. Cyprus will be one of 10 new members entering the European Union on that date.

Under the UN peace plan, all Cypriots would enjoy the right of unrestricted movement and most of the 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees would be allowed to return to their former homes in the north.

On Tuesday Mr Denktash announced that Greek Cypriots could spend up to three nights in hotels in the Turkish-occupied north. The Greek Cypriot National Council, formed after the Turkish invasion, issued a statement praising the "spontaneous and most friendly behaviour of Greek and Turkish Cypriots following the lifting of the ban", which it said disproves Turkish claims that people from the two sides "cannot live together".

Turkey currently maintains about 40,000 troops in northern Cyprus. Turkey's prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, is expected to visit the island in the next day or two to announce further measures to ease travel restrictions."