Divided Cyprus’ rival leaders open new crossing

LIMNITIS, Cyprus: Rival Cypriot leaders opened a new crossing point linking the ethnically split island’s Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities Thursday, offering a boost to plodding reunification talks.The opening of the Limnitis-Yesilirmak crossing in the island’s remote northwest satisfies a decades-long demand by Greek and Turkish Cypriot area residents to shorten travel times across the divide there and help the region’s development.But it primarily aims to signal that the peace process remains on track despite two years of difficult negotiations that have produced limited progress.The crossing is the seventh through a 180-kilometer (112-mile) United Nations-controlled no man’s land separating the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north from the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south that have opened since 2003.Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded after to a short-lived coup by supporters of union with Greece.Greek-Cypriot government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou hailed the opening Thursday as the culmination of “many months of difficult efforts” as part of a government policy to open as many crossings as possible — without acting as a substitute for a peace deal.The crossing holds added resonance because travel in the area was restricted in the wake of armed clashes between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the early 1960s The push for a Limnitis-Yesilirmak crossing began in early 2008 when Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and then Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat embarked on a renewed peace drive — the latest in a series of failed talks stretching back 36 years.

Months of negotiations ensued until work by a Greek and Turkish Cypriot joint venture to repave a six-kilometer (3.7-mile) stretch of road began in March. The United States and the European Union funded the project.Christofias and Talat’s successor, Dervis Eroglu, conducted a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday attended by EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule.The crossing reduces travel time for Greek Cypriots in the area heading to the capital, Nicosia by about 1.5 hours.Peace talks between Christofias and Eroglu have been slow because of the complexity of the issues they have to tackle, particularly arrangements on private property lost during the war.Most of the property in the north belongs to Greek Cypriots and Christofias wants them to have the first say on what will happen to it. Eroglu wants the current occupants to decide – Arabnews