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Media Watch 2003

29 April 2003
Source: BBC
Comment: The following article appeared on BBC news online on 29 April 2003.
Cyprus contacts gather pace

The Turkish Cypriot authorities have decided to ease the restrictions for Greek Cypriots crossing to the north of the divided island.

For the first time in almost 30 years Greek Cypriots will be allowed to stay up to three nights in hotels in the north, rather than being confined to day trips.

Two more border crossings are also to be opened to ease the enormous congestion seen at the current three crossing points in the 1974 ceasefire line, which were opened up to free movement up last Wednesday.

However, some Greek Cypriots complain this is not enough - several dozen of them presented a petition at a United Nations checkpoint in the west of the island demanding to have their local border crossing opened.

Villagers near the town of Kato Pyrgos want the crossing, near their former homes in the Turkish-held village of Limnitis, opened to avoid a 300 kilometre (187 miles) round-trip to their nearest checkpoint.

The area has long been closed to outsiders by the Turkish army, which has about 35,000 troops in the north.

The two additional checkpoints to be opened will be in use in a couple of days said Salih Miroglu, who serves as the Turkish Cypriot minister of public works and transportation.

Over 100,000 people - an estimated tenth of the divided island's population - have crossed the UN patrolled "Green Line" in recent days, some waiting 18 hours to pass, Greek Cypriot police said.

Hotel required

Caner Sarphan, a spokesman for the Turkish Cypriot cabinet, said the decision to allow overnight trips for visitors would go into effect once it had been published in the Official Gazette, probably later on Tuesday.

Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash said Greek Cypriot tour operators would be encouraged to arrange tours to the north of the island.

"They will bring Greek Cypriots to the border and hand them over to Turkish Cypriot tour operators, who will arrange for their hotel stays in the north," he said.

According to Mr Sarphan all Greek Cypriots visiting the north overnight will have to stay in Turkish Cypriot hotels and produce a receipt proving as much when they return.

Correspondents say having the visiting Greek Cypriots stay in hotels will be a valuable boost to the ailing economy on the Turkish side, a move welcomed by locals there.

"We are very happy. This is likely to help the hotels here which are empty most weekdays," Enver Ozeren, manager of Rocks Hotel in the northen coastal town of Kyrenia, said.

Mr Ozeren said that in preparation of the expected influx, his hotel staff underwent training on Tuesday on how to greet guests in Greek.

Cyprus has been divided since Turkish troops invaded the north in 1974, following a brief Greek-Cypriot coup backed by the Greek Government.

Thousands of people displaced from their homes have never returned, and earlier this year a high-profile peace push by the UN ended in failure.

The easing of border restrictions comes a week after the Greek Cypriots signed the European Union accession treaty paving the way for EU membership next year.

But EU membership will, in effect, apply only in the internationally-recognised Greek part of Cyprus if the island is not unified in time for formal membership in May 2004.""