By Sinead Kelly
THE INTERNATIONAL Crisis Group (ICG), in a departure from its usual recommendations on ways to secure a federal Cyprus settlement, has in its latest report, recommended instead looking at a negotiated partition.
The report argues that the parties should informally consider the option of mutually agreed independence for the Turkish Cypriots within the EU. The feasibility of such an option would depend on the voluntary agreement of the Greek Cypriots, the ICG said.
To win that voluntary agreement, Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots would have to the return of the ghost town of Varosha, pull back all or almost all of Turkey’s occupation troops; give up international guarantees, offer compensation within an overall deal on property, drop demands for derogations from EU law that would block post-settlement Greek Cypriot property purchases in any future Turkish Cypriot state, and acknowledge full Greek Cypriot control of territorial waters south of the island that have proven natural gas deposits, it added.
Referring to the current round of Cyprus talks, the ICG said officials who are involved in the negotiations are aiming for ‘the lightest federation yet imagined’.
“But ill omens abound. Talks on just the opening statement dragged on for five months. Public scepticism is high. Suggested confidence-building measures, rarely achieved through negotiation, have fallen flat. Natural gas discoveries south of the island have done more to distract the sides than to unify them,” said the ICG report.
“The status quo has proved durable and peaceful and is constantly improving. The main day-to-day problem is not so much the division of the island, but the non-negotiated status of the de facto partition.”
The ICG said that in private, business leaders on both sides and diplomats on all sides appear increasingly interested in a new framework for discussion. It said some Greek Cypriots are privately ready to consider a negotiated partition “although anger at the injustices of the Turkish invasion and strong nationalist rhetoric still rule the public sphere.”
But to avoid another failed effort at a federation, the idea of partition should be tested. “In five rounds of mainly UN-facilitated negotiations over four decades, the sides have been unable to agree to reunify Cyprus according to the official parameters of a bizonal, bicommunal federation,” said the ICG report.
“Thousands of meetings in dozens of formats have resulted only in a glacial, incomplete normalisation of the de facto partition.”
With partition there would be no federal government with cumbersome ethnic quotas. Without a settlement, the frictions of the non-negotiated partition would simply continue, Turkey’s EU relationship would stay blocked, and the EU and NATO would remain unable to cooperate formally, due to diplomatic duelling between the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey.
In addition, Turkish Cypriots would live on in isolation, Greek Cypriots would suffer a deeper economic depression, longer deprivation of property rights, costly obstacles in the way of gas development, diminishing leverage over Turkey and, “perhaps worst of all, indefinite uncertainty”.
The ICG recommends that both sides, plus Turkey and Greece, privately explore, alongside talks on federal reunification, a full range of settlement options, including recognition of an independent Turkish Cypriot state.
Greek Cypriots should also explore lifting the ban on direct trade between the north and the EU, while Turkey should ratify the Ankara protocol and normalise trade with Cyprus, the organisation said.
The ICG is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental body committed to preventing and resolving conflict.