By Stefanos Evripidou
TURKISH CYPRIOT leader Dervis Eroglu has proposed demining the island as a confidence-building measure (CBM), in a move indicating little enthusiasm for the Greek Cypriot push for a return of Varosha.
Turkish Cypriot daily Kibris yesterday reported that Eroglu submitted a CBM proposal during his meeting with President Nicos Anastasiades earlier this week, calling for the island to be completely demined.
The paper cited sources close to Eroglu saying that the first stage of the Turkish Cypriot proposal involves the demining by the UN of four known remaining minefields in the buffer zone, three under the control of the National Guard and one under Turkish forces.
The second stage includes a commitment by the two sides to demine minefields outside of the buffer zone and within the areas they control, monitored by the UN.
This would send a clear message that the road for a solution is open, the source told Kibris.
In its last resolution renewing UNFICYP’s mandate on January 30, 2014, the UN Security Council (UNSC) urged “rapid agreement on facilitating the recommencement of demining operations and clearance of the remaining minefields” both in the buffer zone and outside it.
A source close to the Greek Cypriot negotiating team confirmed that Eroglu submitted the demining proposal at the leaders’ meeting on Monday
“We were hoping for something more than that,” said the source, adding, “We were hoping for CBMs that have a real impact on people’s daily lives and create momentum in the talks. Unfortunately, this was the only CBM they were prepared to discuss.”
During the meeting, Anastasiades reiterated his proposal for the opening of Varosha in combination with a number of other steps that would work towards building trust and cooperation between the two communities.
“Famagusta is so much more than a CBM, though one of its benefits would be to boost confidence,” said the Greek Cypriot source.
Asked to comment on reports that Turkey has allegedly agreed to open up Varosha once a solution has been agreed between the two sides and just before a referendum, the source said: “We want it to happen now, as quickly as possible. The city is derelict. Once the Turkish army hands it over to the UN, it’s going to take a long time to be habitable again.”
They added: “We want it to be something special and different that we do now so we have a cascading effect that leads towards a solution.”
A first step towards opening the fenced area would be to allow an international team of experts to enter the town and carry out a feasibility study on its reconstruction. Recent reports suggest the Americans are keen on funding the study and would even bring US State Secretary John Kerry to the island to announce the move, should Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots agree.
It is believed the Turkish Cypriots are showing more pushback to the Varosha proposal than Ankara, concerned this would undermine their negotiating position in the talks, particularly on territorial adjustments.
The Greek Cypriot source said this was “not a great argument because in terms of territory, we are only talking about the fenced area which is a very small area”.
Asked to comment on suggestions by Turkish Cypriot representatives that the Greek Cypriots are not in a rush to move forward in the talks, the source said this was a typical accusation.
“We see it every time. Those who sit in the negotiations know very well who is proposing things that are essentially out of reach,” said the source, adding that Eroglu’s negotiating team has “completely unraveled positions” built by former leaders Mehmet Ali Talat and Demetris Christofias, creating a “huge distance” between the positions of the two sides.
Since elected to power Anastasiades has refused to bind himself to the ‘convergences document’ prepared by the UN, recording agreement on issues reached to date.
Eroglu appears to have taken advantage of the president’s noncommittal approach, distancing the Turkish Cypriot side from a number of positions he never much liked.
As a result, the two sides’ positions are very far apart, particularly on property, territory and governance, as confirmed by Turkish Cypriot negotiator Kudret Ozersay in Kibris.
With such “maximalist” positions, the Greek Cypriots argue this is not a good time to start a give-and-take process, something which Ozersay is calling for.
Instead the two sides need to look at things in depth and work closer towards reaching decisions that can guarantee a functioning and viable state at the end of the process.
“That’s what we’re trying to do, not to delay the process in anyway,” said the Greek Cypriot source, adding that negotiations on the two sides’ divergent positions should start by the end of April.